Los Angeles sanitation officials said Friday they will crack down on garbage collectors who mix regular trash with recyclables and yard clippings, a practice that has generated complaints from residents across the city.
The Department of Sanitation took action after an article in The Times reported that residents of parts of Woodland Hills regularly saw city sanitation crews undo all their sorting by emptying the clippings, recycling and non-recycling bins into the same truck.
Department spokesman Daniel Hackney sent a letter Friday to all five collection districts admonishing workers that mixing the trash was "unacceptable." In an interview, he said the practice was limited to a few neighborhoods.
"It only concerns me in that it shouldn't have happened in the first place," Hackney said. "But this really is a drop of water in the swimming pool."
A spokesman for Mayor Richard Riordan said his office will examine the complaints. "The mayor is very proud of the progress the recycling program has made . . . but is disturbed by these isolated instances," said Deputy Mayor Ben Austin.
Some residents of Silver Lake, Hollywood, Boyle Heights, West Hills and Sherman Oaks said Friday they also have witnessed bin mingling.
Roberto Uranga, 50, who lives in Silver Lake, said he and neighbors complained to their district sanitation office a month ago but got no response.
"I asked the guy dumping everything in the truck why he was doing it and he said they were short on hours," Uranga said, who lives on Angeles Avenue. "When we saw it was becoming a weekly practice, anger roiled in the neighborhood."
On Calzona Street in Boyle Heights, Ray Garcia said he first noticed crews dumping the separate bins into the same truck six months ago.
"I called the city and was told they were short-handed on trucks," said Garcia, 52. "I didn't tell my grandchildren. We all take pride in recycling. But when you go out there and see that happening, you think maybe it's not worth it."
He added that some of his neighbors have stopped filling the blue bins with bottles and cans and use them instead for laundry. Others were told by sanitation crews that the garbage was being re-sorted at the dump, but department officials said that does not happen.
The officials also said Los Angeles has one of the best recycling records in the nation, capturing 42% of its refuse in the program. A state board had required the city to boost that figure to 50% by 2000. Cities can be fined $10,000 a day by the state for violating recycling rules. The California Waste Management Board said it will look into the Woodland Hills situation.
But board spokesman Chris Peck said the agency has "no information the [Los Angeles] numbers are being cooked. The biggest concern for the city is if they lost resident participation, their numbers are going to go down."
Meanwhile, Johnnie Carlson, a spokesman for Californians Against Waste said the reports of trash mixing, even if isolated, raise concerns about the city's numbers and the public's trust.
Don Dirkee, who lives in Hollywood, already has lost faith in the program.
"It's just silly," said Dirkee, 63. "The city pays all this money for three separate trash bins and they dump it all. We pay for this service that's supposed to be going toward picking up the trash and then they don't do their job."