Trash: the big topic for many Angelenos over the past couple of weeks.  For most of us, waste is something we don’t think about much, and can’t wait to get rid of; while we try to recycle as much as possible, and use reusable containers and the like, we still generate a tremendous amount of trash.  When we’re done with a wrapper or a soda cup, we generally can’t wait for it to be out of our sight.  However, if you’re working in the waste industry, you don’t have that luxury.  In Los Angeles, trash is currently handled in two major ways: residential waste it picked up by the city, and private waste haulers take care of commercial and large apartment buildings.  For the latter group, trash pick up is a regular cost to incur, but because they can chose the private handlers themselves, there is an argument that the environmental and safety standards these handlers are held to are lacking.  In fact, two young waste workers were recently killed due to the hazardous materials and lack of proper equipment at their place of work.  While many people, especially owners of apartment buildings, are happy with the current system and the level of flexibility it allows them, there are others who believe the environmental and safety impacts are too great to ignore.

A plan was put before the LA Board of Public Works, changing the current free-market system of private waste hauling to a franchise system, either exclusive or non-exclusive.  This means that the system would be highly regulated and companies would have to be approved by the city.  The Bureau of Sanitation put forth a set of recommendations based on their data, which was approved unanimously by the Board- the next step was a hearing on what to accept for the city.

The hearing took place on Monday, February 13th, and I was lucky enough to be informed about it ahead of time, and was in attendance.  Well, I have to admit I didn’t stay the whole time- the whole event took HOURS, because the speaker list was unlimited, and there was a ton of people, with very strong opinions.  Many building owners and owners of smaller waste hauling companies were adamantly against changing the system, while environmental groups and workers rights activists for very for it.  It was heated, and a little awkward, to be honest. Many people on both sides made valid points, but I really think many were not completely informed as to what the plans would change, and took these changes to the system very personally.  Changes in a system as large as waste in LA have to be taken very seriously, but we also need to be able to step back, look at the bigger picture, and be able to understand the argument from both sides.

In the end, the Board voted for the changes.  With a city that has a goal of zero waste (which is an issue unto itself), and huge traffic problems, the Board determined that was the right course of action- and I’d have to say I agree.  It comes down to a question of business against the environment, and we live in a time where we can’t take that lightly.  We need to be creating a more sustainable way of living our lives, immediately, and I believe this is a step in that process.  Yes, its extreme, and we have yet to see how it will pan out, but when it comes down to it, concerns about health, traffic, and the future of our city as a whole overtook those of individual businesses.  I just hope that the concerns the smaller companies and apartment owners have about price hikes and service drops aren’t as true as they expect.

For more info, accurate stats, and specific quotes, take a look at the Don’t Waste LA home page, where they have links to many of the LA times articles about the issue.

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