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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Los Angeles to Go Zero Waste by 2050


The nation’s second most populous city, Los Angeles, has a lofty goal of achieving zero waste by 2050. The Los Angeles Board of Public Works brought the California city closer to its goal by approving a contract the end of September that will overhaul its waste collection.

The $3.5 billion waste hauling contract will split the city into 11 franchise zones served by seven waste haulers. Under the contract, the franchise holders are required to collectively reduce solid waste disposal by 1 million tons a year by 2025. The franchise rights last 10 years and will take effect in July 2017. The contracts also include over "$200 million in investment in recycling and materials handling infrastructure.” Other goals include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and food waste.

Under the current waste collection system in Los Angeles, about 144 private haulers collect waste from multifamily and commercial sites. It is an inefficient system.

In April 2014, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance that allowed for the establishment of an exclusive franchise system. Called the Zero Waste LA franchise policy, it will transform the city’s waste and recycling system for apartments and businesses. And it makes Los Angeles the “first and largest city nationally to adopt a robust plan to move toward zero waste,” says the Don’t Waste LA coalition. For over four years, the coalition made up of over 35 environmental organizations conducted researched and advocated for a better waste collection system. 

Waste is a big problem in Los Angeles, as it is in every American city and town. Over 1 million tons of food scraps and yard trimmings are thrown away by Los Angeles residents every year. The new system requires organics collection and composting to be expanded, which will reduce methane, a GHG with a warming potential 23 times that of carbon. It will create up to 2,000 jobs, and improve the lives of more than 6,000 workers who handle and sort the city’s waste, officials said.

One of the top 10 most dangerous industries is sorting waste. And that's why the new system includes a certification program to review facilities’ operations and legal compliance. It also has the potential to expand careers in the recycling sector over the next decade.

Making waste collection more environmentally friendly includes the vehicles that collect the trash. The estimated 800 diesel trucks now used by haulers to collect trash will be swapped with clean fuel fleets, reducing up to 94 percent of particulate matter air pollution. This is good news because Los Angeles is one of the top cities for air pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report

It's also worth noting that Los Angeles County has limited landfill space, a 2015 report by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) pointed out. The county’s landfills could run out of space “as early as 2016,” according to the report. In 2012, the county sent 8.6 million tons of waste to landfills. All that waste sent to landfill comes with a high environmental price. The waste sector is the county’s third largest contributor to GHG emissions, and organic waste sent to landfills is “a major cause.”

Bucking this trend, Los Angeles seeks to serve as a model for other cities. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also proposed a reform of the city’s commercial waste collection services, which is similar to that of Los Angeles’ new system. It would divide commercial waste collection into several geographic zones and private waste haulers would be selected for each zone.

Considering the impacts of climate change, which experts say range from increased and more severe natural disasters such as hurricanes to prolonged drought, it's time for widespread reform of waste collection in the U.S.

Image credit: Flickr/Dave Wright

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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