Plan to Ship Trash to China--It Looks Good on Paper

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles, in an unprecedented push toward recycling, is planning a new era in Pacific Rim relations by shipping trash--which is thrown away in downtown office towers--across the sea to keep Chinese bureaucrats and printing presses in paper.

In the Chinese, Los Angeles appears to have a willing consumer for some of the 4,000 tons of reusable scrap paper buried every day in hillside landfills. The paper would be collected from high-rise office towers, baled and loaded onto container ships, and processed at new mills to be built in China.

The Chinese would get a new source of the fine-quality paper needed for writing and printing, a valuable international commodity. Los Angeles would benefit by gaining new space in local landfills, which are expected to spill over by the mid-1990s.

Outside Sources


Los Angeles already gets most of its water from Northern California, much of its electric power from Utah, and sends some sewage to Arizona (after an embarrassing public rejection by the president of Guatemala). But China is the farthest Los Angeles officials have gone to accommodate the needs of an expanding population.

The deal, endorsed Wednesday by Mayor Tom Bradley and a major environmental group, is actually between the Chinese and a California corporation formed for this project, China Paper Partners, headed by Alan Davis, also president of Conservatree Paper Co. The San Francisco firm is the nation’s largest distributor of recycled paper.

Although final details still need to be decided, the commercial consul at the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles said Tuesday that the deal is expected to go through.

“I believe this project is a very good project,” said He Xin Hao at a press conference in Los Angeles City Hall. “There is a great demand for paper material in China.”

China Paper Partners would buy the wastepaper from private disposal firms that service Los Angeles office buildings. Office workers would be asked to toss out food and drinks in separate containers. But all other separation of the trash would be done when the bales of waste reach China, Davis said.

Experimental Effort

A pilot program will begin Feb. 1 to collect paper from the Transamerica Building, Los Angeles City Hall and up to three other downtown office buildings. The pilot program is aimed at proving to the Chinese that the paper can be collected and shipped economically.

China Paper Products has already agreed to build China’s first paper mill capable of removing ink from wastepaper, a crucial step in producing high-grade recycled paper. The 200-ton-per-day de-inking mill, to be built in the Tianjin area, is due to be completed in 1990, Davis said.

Ultimately, a plant will also be built to process the bales of Los Angeles paper when they arrive in China. Other mills will be needed to convert the 1,000 tons a day of Los Angeles wastepaper that organizers said they plan to export.

The 1,000 tons is about a quarter of the reusable wastepaper that city and county officials estimate is sent daily to Los Angeles landfills. If the project is successful, the volume of paper from Los Angeles will be so large that paper exports from the United States will rise by 10%, Davis said. Export of paper through the Port of Los Angeles will increase more than a third, he said.

Bradley’s staff has worked closely on the project even though it will not directly affect the capacity of landfills operated by the city. Except for the paper tossed out by workers in City Hall, nearly all of the exported paper will come from sources whose rubbish goes to private landfills and those run by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.

Nonetheless, aides to the mayor said any reduction in the flow of trash into landfills helps stave off the crisis expected when the dumps are filled.

Citizens for a Better Environment, a group that has advocated more recycling of Los Angeles trash, also praised the project for making a major dent in landfill use. “It would be criminal to keep burying this resource,” said Jill Ratner, an attorney for the group.