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Cities’ Approaches Are a Mixed Bag

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Each day, homeowners here dutifully sort their metals, glass, plastics and other garbage into four different colored bins. For their work, they have the lowest trash bills in the county--less than $10 a month.

Not in Huntington Beach. Residents here don’t have to lift a finger when it comes to recycling. They throw it all in one can, and leave it to someone else to sort out.

“Your regular old trash truck comes along and picks up the whole thing,” said James Sankey, senior analyst for the city refuse fund in Huntington Beach. “People are in shock when we tell them we recycle for them.”

There’s a price though--residents pay $16.49 a month for trash collection--the highest rate in the county.

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In the middle is Laguna Hills, which gives residents one giant bin for tossing all their recyclables. Residents supply a second can for non-recyclable trash. Since residents do some sorting--but not all--their bill is $11.39 a month.

As cities in Orange County work to meet a deadline to recycle half their trash by the year 2000, three different methods for dealing with residential trash have emerged. All cities say that commercial and industrial businesses have to do their part too.

Irvine and Laguna Beach, the two cities that began recycling earliest in Orange County, have the most labor intensive programs, and the lowest rates. They admit it is harder to reach the mandatory 50% by relying solely on residents.

“Full sorting by our residents allows us to keep costs down,” said Mike Byrne, management analyst for the city of Irvine. “But we are only at 26% diversion.”

Byrne said the city would have to decide within months what else it could do.

Ten of Orange County’s cities, including some of the most populated--Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Buena Park, La Palma, Fullerton, Fountain Valley, Orange, Stanton and Tustin--use one-can collections, then pay recycling plants to sort through the mess and retrieve the recyclables. The system is widely known as “dirty Murfing” because wet, dirty garbage is hauled into facilities known as Materials Recycling Facilities (MRFs) to be sorted by minimum-wage workers on huge conveyor belts.

“We prefer the expression ‘co-mingled trash,’ ” said Sankey of Huntington Beach. “Dirty Murfing doesn’t sound so nice.”

Advocates say it is a superior method of recycling because all households participate, whether they realize it or not. Opponents say the method eliminates hands-on individual recycling, drives up costs, and also yields a dirtier, less marketable product.

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“If you’re throwing away food waste, animal waste and dirty diapers with your newspapers, it’s going to contaminate your paper almost beyond use,” said Michael Carey, who runs the county’s oldest nonprofit recycling program, set up in 1970 at Orange Coast College.

Sankey and others rejected the criticism, saying that tons of perfectly good paper and other recyclables are sorted out and sold.

Newport Beach has held its costs down in spite of using “dirty Murfing” by not contracting with an outside hauler, instead using city employees to pick up trash, said Dave Niederhaus, general services manager.

Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley residents are paying for construction of the “dirty Murf” they use--an $11-million facility built by their longtime hauler, Rainbow Disposal Inc.

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“I get mad every time I pay it, because I think it’s a terrible, exorbitant bill on a fixed income, on top of everything else,” said longtime Huntington Beach resident Esther Malane. “I think we should go back to incinerators.”

Other residents don’t mind.

“I am happy somebody else is saving my tin cans and bottles for me, to be honest about it,” said John Maxwell, another Huntington Beach resident.

Fountain Valley City Clerk Susan Lynn said the city has an extensive recycling education program that encourages residents to buy products with less packaging. The city already has reached a 51% diversion rate.

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A third method is winning out in many cities. Laguna Hills, Garden Grove, Seal Beach and others have achieved high diversion rates, with some increased costs, by requiring residents to do some sorting and paying an outside firm to do the rest.

“Our program is somewhat of a happy medium,” Laguna Hills Assistant City Manager Don White said. “It is clearly the best.”

But critics say there are high costs in this method too. Cities must do multiple pickups of different types of garbage or use expensive equipment to do it all at once.

“The bottom line is if you’re a city, you do not pay to send out two or three different sets of trucks to pick up people’s garbage. It’s just lunacy,” said Dave Niederhaus, general services manager for Newport Beach.

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