California recycling goal trashed
El Dorado County and the city of South Lake Tahoe are among the hundreds of California cities and counties that have failed to meet a goal to cut by half the amount of garbage they dump in landfills this year.
Nearly five months after the Jan. 1 deadline, which could bring fines totaling as much as $10,000 a day for violators, no penalties have been issued for failing to comply with the Integrated Waste Management Act, which many consider the nation’s most comprehensive recycling law.
“We won’t have our numbers until after December 2000, and then the state will start looking at the numbers to see who is way off or who is on track,” said Jeanne Lear, recycling program coordinator for South Tahoe Refuse, a private company serving South Lake Tahoe, Stateline
and Meyers. “My understanding is they’re going to extend the time frame to meet the goals.”
In 1999 South Tahoe Refuse diverted 30 percent of its waste from landfills, said Lear. After the state used a formula with a variety of adjusters, that number was 38 percent.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Lear said. “We’re making steady progress, and the numbers have steadily gone up.”
Some state officials said it is unlikely cities that fail to comply with the law will ever be punished, a position that has rankled environmentalists.
The Integrated Waste Management Board often opts to simply place offenders on special garbage-reduction timetables, suggesting specific recycling programs and compliance orders.
”This whole fear of fines is unfounded,” said waste board Chairman Dan Eaton. ”If anything, we have been criticized for not being tough enough. But rather than fining everyone, we have favored a different approach.”
Environmentalists such as Mark Murray, a member of Californians Against Waste, maintain the waste board is too passive in enforcing the legislation.
Passed in 1989, the Integrated Waste Management Act was designed to ease the burden on landfills and emphasizes changes in packaging or business practices that will lower the amount of garbage.
Under the action, cities and counties had to cut by 50 percent the amount of waste going to landfills by 2000. While few cities have met the reduction goal, the law is still credited with significantly improving California’s environment.
South Tahoe Refuse built a Materials Recovery Facility in 1995. Inside the MRF, workers operate machinery and separate trash moving along a conveyor belt. Cans, plastic jugs and even refrigerator-sized appliances are compacted, bailed and shipped to places where there are markets for them.
Wood – including lumber, old pallets and dead trees – are transported daily to Minden, where the wood is used for composting.
About 40 percent of South Shore’s garbage comes from residents; the rest comes from commercial operations, which include resorts and construction. South Shore does not have curbside recycling. It likely would not be very effective because it would affect less than half of the waste. And participation in curbside recycling is typically only about 50 percent.
On South Shore, residents are encouraged to separate their recyclables, making separation easier for workers in the MRF.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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