Where's my green-waste container?

San Carlos resident (and others) wonder when their wheeled bin will arrive

Green waste containers in the San Carlos Library parking lot
  • Green waste containers in the San Carlos Library parking lot

San Diego's automated curbside yard-waste-recycling pilot program expanded to San Carlos in May 2013 when about 5500 green containers were delivered to residents. Last January 7, a woman at the San Carlos Area Council meeting wondered why people at the top of Casselberry Way had containers and those at the bottom of the street didn't.

As this is a somewhat common scenario around the city, I contacted José Ysea, spokesman for the city’s environmental services department, to find out the answer to that question.

City trash collection at 202 Redwood Street, 1931

City trash collection at 202 Redwood Street, 1931

City of San Diego courtesy photo

Automated recycling collection truck at 202 Redwood St., 2011

Automated recycling collection truck at 202 Redwood St., 2011

City of San Diego courtesy photo

Ysea said the primary reason greenery collection hadn't been extended to all homes "is the lack of sustainable funding." Ysea went on to refer to the 1919 People's Ordinance, which legislated free trash pick-up for City of San Diego residents.

A public vote is required to change the ordinance that made the city "responsible for trash collection and for imposing a tax to pay for any costs not covered by proceeds from the sale of hog feed," according to "A History of Waste Management in the City of San Diego."

Ysea said the no-fee arrangement doesn't apply to "many multi-family homes, homes located on private, non-dedicated streets, and those not directly adjacent to a public street”; private franchised haulers serve those residents.

In a recent interview, Ysea said the city provides trash and blue-bin-recycling collection to about 283,000 homes. That's about 55 percent of San Diego’s 512,000 housing units. Approximately 190,000 homes have curbside greenery collection. There's automated pick-up for about 40,000 homes, but "not everyone participates."

Greenery collection and the recycling program are funded by a $10-per-ton fee assessed on trash collected by the city and private haulers. Greenery collection costs $210 per ton; the cost is $100 per ton for trash collection. Yard waste such as grass, leaves, and shrub clippings are taken to the Miramar Landfill and made into mulch and compost.

Curbside greenery collection started in San Carlos during the 1980s, said Ysea. Automation — utilizing collection trucks that do the heavy lifting — began in 1994 with the distribution of black trash containers on wheels. "The city was impressed with the productivity and safety gains and decided to test" automated yard-waste collection.

Green containers were delivered to Tierrasanta in the late 1990s, Ysea said, because anecdotal information indicated the “community represented a small-sized community where different education campaigns could be tested and contrasted for effectiveness."

The last major greenery expansion occurred in 2004 and 2005. Manual collection increased from 120,000 to 180,000 homes. During the past two years, manual collection was added to 6000 homes in portions of Emerald Hills, Paradise Valley, University Heights, City Heights, San Ysidro, and Carmel Valley.

"Neighborhoods with larger lots, mature landscaping, and those who have a record of setting out clean greens [those with little to no contaminants] are good candidates for evaluation when the opportunity for conversion to automated green collection arises."

Other considerations include scheduling and the ability to maneuver trucks on smaller streets and areas with overhead utility lines. Two-person crews do manual collection in rear-loaders, trucks that haul about eight tons; automated one-person packers can cram in about ten tons. Cameras help drivers "with backing and to see the items in the hopper."

Ysea said it would cost an estimated $15 million to automate all current greenery customers: $11 million for containers and $4 million for vehicles. Citywide automation would cost an estimated $14 million for containers and $5 million for vehicles. The landfill's Miramar Greenery processes 90,000 tons of yard waste annually. That total includes about 27,000 tons collected by the city.

Ysea said there are currently "no firm plans" to expand greenery collection or automated pick-up.

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If the total cost of trash collection in the city is about $47 million/yr. how can it cost $15 million to implement automated green collection for 90,000 households? Are the capital costs not amortized? Was any calculation done to account for the reduction in man hours required due to the automation? Currently the greenery trucks have a driver and at least one other person to manually load the greenery. I would assume that if the system is automated the other person would no longer be needed. At $47M/yr. the cost per household trash collection is approximately $162 per household or $13.50/month. That's well below what most folks that have private collection pay for trash pickup.

This is just one of many breakdowns by the "do nothing" SD city government, and its endless excuse of lack of funding. I moved out of that dysfunctional city thirty years ago, and have never looked back. We have plenty of other cities in the county that have their "funky, funny, and crooked" politicians, but nothing ever matches the slobbering city of SD.

No city can fund everything. No government can fund everyone's favorite project or idea no matter how well meaning it is. There is a cost benefit relationship in everything we do. Sometimes a good idea is not cost effective. If all the taxpayers sent all their money to the city there would still be not enough. It is all about spending priorities. We all face these issues in our own spending.

Lets grandfather in all the households that are currently not receiving city pickup of trash. Obviously the city provides the service at a much lower rate than the private trash companies. The currently excluded households would save money and we could finance it with a small % of what is proposed for a chargers stadium.

When I lived in a neighborhood where there was green-waste pick-up, I would trim my canyon wild vegetation at the beginning of every fire season (sometime in May). It was all clean stuff, because there was no container to hide contaminants.

If pick-ups could be scheduled along every property that includes canyons and other wildlands just before the beginning of the fire season (what is called the "dry date), it would go a long way to reducing hazards related to wildfires.

Anybody who generates enough garden waste to require pick-up is using too much water and fertilizer. It should go into the "regular" waste containers anyway, as it is too often contaminated to be useful as "mulch."

The "mulch" quality is pretty poor anyway, but the processing does help keep the big volumes of organics out of the landfills, extending their useful lives.

Any kind of "waste" is a signpost of our stupidity as a culture anyway. We will bury ourselves, one way or the other.

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