City boosts its zero-waste effort

The way Glendale deals with trash faces steady change over the next 20 years as the city lays the groundwork to eventually have zero waste reaching its landfill.

Some changes have already passed through City Council chambers, but others — such as a program that uses microorganisms to break down food, and mandatory commercial recycling — are still in their infancy.

The zero-waste effort was unanimously approved by the City Council Tuesday, although the individual components of the broad-based plan will still need to come back for the green light before they’re implemented, said Public Works Director Steve Zurn.

In 2000, the state required 50% of waste be diverted from landfills, but trends point to tighter restrictions, said Tom Brady, Glendale’s senior integrated waste planner.

Glendale currently diverts about 60% of the roughly 162,000 tons of trash generated each year.

The new plan calls for 75% diversion from Scholl Canyon Landfill by 2020 and 90% by 2030, eventually getting to nearly zero waste.

“That’s a pretty heavy goal,” Zurn said.

The goals are one component of beefed-up environmental sustainability efforts, many of which have been spurred by state mandates, such as reducing city-produced greenhouse gases by 8% in 2020 and 12% in 2035.

The City Council also has supported a proposed ban on plastic bags.

Coming down the pipeline is another state rule calling on cities to plan for commercial and multi-family waste reduction by July 2012, Brady said.

Glendale officials plan to expand the city’s recycling center to do the separating work, since on-site separation would be a challenge, given the city’s diverse languages and large apartment population, Brady said.

The city is poised to implement greater recycling efforts through a new contract approved Tuesday with its recycling center operator, the Allan Company. Under the contract, the company will invest $410,000 to convert the center on West Chevy Chase Drive into a large-scale multi-waste recycling facility.

Commercial waste reduction may cost the city $350,000 a year, according to a city report.

Recycling bottles and cans alone won’t be enough to get Glendale to 75%. The city may have to recycle food as well, Brady said.

Food waste from multi-family units could be separated at the recycling center and sent to an anaerobic digestion facility, a sealed box that speeds up decomposition with the help of microorganisms. Officials recommend that the facility be placed at Scholl Canyon Landfill, which is set to close in 2030, although if more waste can be diverted, that deadline could be extended.

The digestion facility would also have the added benefit of generating renewable energy credits as it turns waste into biogas, a replacement for fossil fuels. The state has mandated that utilities get 33% of their energy from renewable resources by 2020.

Glendale’s zero-waste effort puts it on a much different path than Los Angeles, which is considering building seven facilities to burn trash. The city expects to have the first one completed, if it gets all the necessary permits, in about six years, said Miguel Zermeno, a Bureau of Sanitation project manager for the city.

Los Angeles prefers burning because it can divert more than just food, Zermeno said. Although much more limited and slower than burning, Glendale is eyeing anaerobic digestion because it is less expensive and gets the renewable resource credit, Brady said.

Glendale is modeling its diversion plan on that of San Jose, touted as a leader in recycling. That city expects to reach its zero-waste goal by 2022. San Jose already composts food waste from multi-family housing and last year allowed 5,000 residents in single-family homes to discard food waste in green yard containers for composting.

Officials are assessing whether they want to expand the pilot program to the entire city.

Brady said he could see Glendale going the same route, and doesn’t expect much of a pushback because it likely would be voluntary.

“People’s attitudes toward waste changes,” Brady said.

Richard Anthony of Zero Waste Associates, which consulted Glendale on its plan, said the goals may seem impossible, but almost everything can be recycled — except used diapers.

“We haven’t figured out what to do with those yet,” he said.

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