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OUR LAGUNA: Lessons in green waste management

Every Waste Management employee ends a conversation with “Have a Green Day,” but after talking to a customer representative last week, I was seeing red.

I had done my spring garden cleanup and filled six trash containers, about par but only one of them Waste Management’s. I lined them up in front of my fence to be picked up on my regular trash day. They weren’t. The extra cans of green waste had always been collected before, but I figured it wasn’t a policy just a good will gesture. So, OK.

I called the Customer Service Center service and asked what to do. Well, I was told, I could request extra Waste Management containers — but that was a waste, you should excuse the expression. I only need the extra cans — and that is a plural — about twice a year for spring and fall cleanups. The other solution, I was told, was to pack the waste in plastic bags.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson and former Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman announced at several meetings in recent years that green waste in plastic bags goes to the landfill. Reducing the waste stream to land fills by 50% in accordance with the state 1989 law mandating the diversion by 2000 was the major reason for the adoption by the city of the three-container system of collecting trash, green waste and recyclables.


And Laguna has done a fine, fine job. Residents and businesses diverted 13,956 tons of recyclables from the landfills in 2007, which exceeds the mandate.

No way was I going to send bags of green waste — what could be more recyclable? — to the landfill. But that was the only way, I was told, they would be picked up. Ridiculous, I snarled.

Where to turn? Michelle Clark or Liz Vasquez-Avila, of course.

Avila is an administrative analyst for the city’s Public Works Department and knows more about trash than she probably ever wanted to. The ever-ebullient Clark is Waste Management’s community trouble shooter and a Laguna Beach resident, who chairs the Chamber of Commerce Beautification Council.


I got to Clark first with my rant about the utter stupidity of routing green waste to the landfill or being saddled all year with a bunch of excess trash containers. And, of course, I had to eat crow.

“You can call ahead and get the extra containers you need and then call back and have them picked up,” Clark said.

Even easier, pile the weeds into the plastic bags and call for a bulk pickup and the bags will not go to the landfill. Every Waste Management residential customer is entitled to two free bulky-item pick-ups a year. Waste Management used to pick up customer-owned containers but had to stop the practice.

“They don’t fit the grabber on the trucks and get damaged,” Clark said. “You have no idea how much we spend replacing the customer’s own containers.”

If I had kept the Waste Management Residential Recycling and Refuse Services Guide, mailed to residents last September, I would not have had to bug Clark or Avila, both of whom were the souls of politesse. But all is not lost. The guide is available at City Hall, Avila gently informed me. The guides are chock full of information that every Laguna resident should have.

Here’s the updated scoop for those of us who thought we knew everything about the service.

Start with the carts. Customers can choose the size they want: 35, 64 or 96 gallons. No color selection, to the dismay of Councilwoman Toni Iseman who would prefer a discrete shade of gray rather than screaming parrot green.

If the carts don’t fit the customer’s needs or get damaged, call the customer service center at (949) 642-1191 — words to live by.


Customers can order one extra recycling and/or green waste cart at no charge.

Contrary to my outdated belief, plastic bags can go in the recyclables container — they just have to be bundled to ensure that all of them will be caught when the commingled contents are sorted.

Any plastic with the “chasing arrow” symbol or embossed numbers one through seven may be recycled — that includes empty containers for detergents, ketchup (known as catsup in my house), mustard, hair product bottles, buckets or toys. The symbol is usually found on the bottoms of the items.

Paper products — colored or white; junk mail; flattened cardboard boxes, even pizza boxes, if there is no food residue; books, the hard cover must be removed, but soft-cover books are OK (but why aren’t you donating those to the Friends of the Library Book Store or the Assistance League of Laguna Beach?); and newspapers — no jokes about birdcages, if you please.

Aluminum cans, absolutely empty aerosol cans — also news to me — even paint cans if empty and dried-out; glass jars and bottles; and shredded paper stuffed in paper bags also go in the recycling container.

So do bagged packing peanuts. But better yet, check with an office supply company or a mailing service to see if they will reuse the peanuts.

What should not go in the recycling container are food or pet wastes, disposable diapers, Styrofoam, unnumbered plastics, incandescent light bulbs, Pyrex or ceramics, glassware, mirrors, window or windshield glass, clothing (donating is recommended), rubber or latex items, and palm fronds, birds of paradise and other succulents or fibrous plants.

Grass clippings, leaves — which by law in Laguna cannot be blown away — prunings, shrubs, small pieces of wood or tree branches and sawdust go in the green waste container


Even chopped-up, unflocked Christmas trees can be recycled.

But it’s easier to take advantage of the Christmas tree curbside collection for the first three weeks in January — of course, I just took down my decorations this week. The trees must be denuded — no tinsel, metal ornaments or stands. Flocked trees will be collected, but cannot be recycled.

And yes, the guide includes the information about bulky-item pick-ups, including bagged green waste, and electronic waste such as televisions, computer monitors, computers, VCRs, cell phones and other devices. Ditto: “universal waste” such as batteries, AAA-D and florescent tubes or compact bulbs, household hazardous waste and medical “sharps.” Call Curbside Inc. at (800) 449-7578 to schedule a pickup.

Customers may also schedule a temporary bin service to handle debris from a party — and please invite me to that bash — or perhaps a small remodel for which a three-cubic yard “insta-bin” may be ordered. For bigger jobs, roll-off containers from 10 to 40 cubic yards are also available. For costs, ordering and pick up information, call the customer service center.

And by the way, the trucks that pick up our trash are going green.

“Five of the 12 trucks that service the city are fueled by natural gas,” Avila said.

As the older trucks are retired they also will be replaced with natural gas power, a concession Iseman pushed.

Plastic beverage containers may be put in the customer’s recyclables container or redeemed at any market or liquor store in Laguna, if it is clean and is labeled CA REDEMPTION VALUE, CALIFORNIA REDEMPTION VALUE, CA CASH REFUND, CALIFORNIA CASH REFUND or CA CRV. Containers that hold less than 24 ounces are worth five cents each, container of more than 24 ounces are worth 10 cents.

Back to the carts: Filled carts must be put on into the street, unless the task is too onerous. In which case, guess who you call? You got it, the Customer Service Center — they are just going to love me.

Carts should be in place by 7 a.m. on the scheduled collection day, and removed by 6 p.m. and stored out of sight, as required by city code, which you could muck up if you forget on which holidays there are no pickups at all or are delayed a day if the holiday falls during the week.

No trash gets collected on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years Day.

Up to five bags of trash may be placed next to the trash container, but only occasionally, at no extra charge.

Regular charges are included on the customer’s tax bill — a Godsend for people like me that tend to stuff bills in a drawer and deal with them until the drawer won’t close or a threatening notice arrives on my doorknob.

For a quick refresher course on waste management, that would be lower case, or Waste Management, upper case, check the pages of the Laguna Beach Community Service brochure, which every home in Laguna should get.

And have a green day.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail