Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Curbside Trash Recycling Drops to Lowest Level : Environment: City officials blame Northridge earthquake for lag in participation in first half of 1994.

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Residents' use of the city's curbside trash recycling program fell in the first half of this year to the lowest level in the two-year history of the program, despite city advertising campaigns, school presentations and cash awards, city public works officials said Wednesday.

City officials, under pressure from a state law to encourage recycling, blamed the Northridge earthquake for the drop-off.

Some 3,680 tons of reusable materials were picked up between January and June, 25% less than during the same period in 1993 and 162 tons less than in the first six months of the program in 1992, officials said.

Under the program, residents separate newspapers, aluminum cans and glass for separate pickup by trash collectors for the city, who pass the material on to recyclers.

Like all California municipalities, Santa Clarita is subject to a state law that requires a reduction of trash going into local dumps--25% by 1995 and 50% by 2000. Cities and counties that fail to meet the requirement face fines of $10,000 per day.

An even bigger incentive for Santa Clarita to reduce its trash output is the city's fight against a proposed dump in Elsmere Canyon, southeast of where San Fernando Road intersects the Antelope Valley Freeway. City leaders oppose the 190-million ton landfill and argue that other methods of trash disposal--from reduction to recycling to rail-hauling--make the dump unnecessary.

Officials of the Santa Clarita Public Works Department, which operates the recycling program, suggest the Northridge earthquake was responsible for the drop.

"We think that many people were probably significantly distracted from their recycling effort," said Jeff Kolin, city public works director.

The drop-off in recyclables--and the explanation for it--is similar to that described by some other recycling programs.

Los Angeles residents put out 5,000 tons of materials for recycling in January and 5,600 tons in February, fewer than the 6,600 tons brought in monthly from March through June, according to the Los Angeles Public Works Department.

"The earthquake is the only thing we had that happened any different," said Gyl Elliott, public information director for the department's waste reduction program.

Elliott also suggested that people may become complacent over time.

"There's a natural dip when you've been in a program for years," said Elliott. "It's not right in front of them any more. They're not getting the flyers in the mail."

More recent statistics on Santa Clarita recycling won't be available for months, but independent recycling centers--where residents bring materials ranging from aluminum foil to car batteries to magazines for cash payments--say business is back to pre-quake levels.

"It's about the same, more or less," said Robert Tabajdi, who works at Santa Clarita Recycling Center in Newhall. "For a few weeks after the earthquake, there weren't very many customers coming in. Then it picked up gradually."

Recycling traditionally dips during the winter months, Tabajdi said. Fewer residents drink beverages from aluminum cans or are willing to travel to a recycling center during poor weather.

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