In the News
Waste Law Smells Fishy
By Helen Floersh, Staff Reporter, San Fernando Valley Business Journal
As a purveyor of fresh produce and vegetable-centric dishes, Follow Your Heart Cafe in Canoga Park has always had a high monthly bill for trash pickup. But after the city of Los Angeles implemented its franchised contract system for waste hauling in late 2016, the natural food eatery found itself paying more than twice as much to have its leftovers hauled away.
"When the city enacted the new law, the price (of trash pickup) skyrocketed," General Manager Chris Besancon told the Business Journal.
Now another government mandate could send the costs even higher. Statewide legislation effected in 2016 requires that businesses producing more than 4 cubic yards of "organic waste" - roughly enough food scraps or lawn clippings to spill over a large plastic barrel - per week must recycle it. The same stipulation will apply to "commercial solid waste," like cardboard and paper, beginning next year.
"Businesses do generate more than half of our waste," Lance Klug, information officer at California Dept. of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle, explained. "They have an opportunity and an obligation to be part of the solution."
It's not just restaurants that are feeling the weight of the guidelines. Apartment buildings with five or more units must also implement organics recycling; large businesses with cafeterias are impacted as well, The Valley Economic Alliance President and CEO Kenn Phillips noted.
"We're trying to figure out what the cost is going to be to take it out, and whether there will be a separate truck that comes to haul it away," Phillips said. Having another recycling bin to contend with could make already-tight parking lots even more troublesome for businesses, he added.
Details of the organics recycling programs have been left up to localities to decide, CalRecycle said, a matter that is likely to frustrate many businesses that fall under the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles.
The city's overhaul of the trash collection system, billed as "RecycLA," already has made it difficult for businesses to comply with laws that are currently in place on account of inconsistent service and soaring costs.
Prior to December 2016, when the L.A. City Council awarded $3.5 billion in contracts to seven companies for exclusive commercial trash collection services, the garbage bill at Follow Your Heart was $895. Now, it's closer to $2200.
"Before it was easier, because we could pick who we wanted (for trash collection)," said Besancon, the general manager. "But I understand where the city is coming from - they're trying to control what happens in the dumps."
As for service, Bobrick Washroom Equipment, a restroom accessory manufacturer in North Hollywood, has yet to receive its blue recycling bin from its trash hauling provider. All trash companies contracted with the city were required to supply business in their franchise zone with containers for recycling.
"Recycling requirements were discussed and a solution agreed upon to satisfy city requirements, however recycling bins were never delivered," a Bobrick facility manager, who the company requested remain anonymous, said in an email to the Business Journal. "We continue to participate in our own recycling outside of city-collected recycling."
Also, under the city's franchise system the new hauler has failed to establish a consistent pickup schedule, creating inefficiencies and safety concerns within Bobrick's operations, the facility manager added. All in all, the company is paying 50 percent more for poorer service.
"Service ... does not meet the criteria set forth in our new contract with the city," the facility manager said. "Bobrick has called in several missed pickups since switching over to our franchise provider."
The firm said it has not yet filed a complaint with the city. Others have been much more vocal about their disdain; the city has received more than 28,000 complaints in the year and a half since it rolled out RecycLA, according to the city Bureau of Sanitation. The department did not return a request for comment on how it plans to implement guidelines for solid commercial waste collection.
Businesses have other options for disposing of organic waste besides having it hauled off by the city. Those that produce large volumes of it may choose to sell it to farmers or another agriculture business that can put it to use as compost, or to compost it on-site themselves.
Derek Tabak, founder of Ecco-Technologies in Reseda, is trying to make it easier for businesses to do just that. His firm, which provides waste management and composting services for mid- to large-sized companies, has seen a three-fold increase in its client base since the organics recycling guidelines for more than 4 cubic yards of waste took effect in 2016.
"You can't send organics to a landfill, so either you're going to pay someone else to (recycle) it for an inordinately high price or you're going to do it yourself," Tabak said.
By his calculation, investing in a compost operation - which starts at around $5,000 through Ecco-Technologies - can reap thousands in savings by reducing the number of trash pickups, especially for businesses that are dealing with rate increases under the city's hauling franchise system. The company is currently in talks with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles County Unified School District to put composting equipment on the sites of prisons and schools, Tabak said.
Businesses that do not produce enough organic waste to offset the cost of a sophisticated compost operation can still find ways to get the trash off their lots without paying for pickups. Those that have a significant amount of raw, pesticide-free waste can donate it to programs such as Kindred Spirits Care Farms, which operates two functional farms on the sites of John Wooden High School in Reseda and Canoga Park High School in Canoga Park.
"Right now we're using a lot of horse manure and straw (for our compost), and would like to have more vegetables," Kindred Spirits founder Karen Snooks said. The only catch is that the produce has to be organic, oil- and meat-free.
Follow Your Heart has been donating to Kindred Spirits for the last couple of years, bagging sweet potato, carrot and other scraps to send to the farm. Yet the kitchen produces much more waste than it can donate, Bescanon said. To further reduce its trash bills, it is implementing a strategy from which all businesses can benefit: training employees on how to properly dispose of every item.
"Right now we're training people properly of what goes in which bin, so that we're recycling everything that gets recycled," Bescanon explained. "We think we'll be able to reduce the number of trash pickups."
Photo 1: Tour of Kindred Spirits care Farms features explanation of compost options.
Photo 2: Derek Tabak of Ecco-Technologies, left, visits John Wooden High School.
Photo 3: Karen Snooks of Kindred Spirits at John Wooden High School's permaculture garden