- Los Angeles Councilmember Mitchell Englander has officially come out against the RecycLA program and introduced a motion asking the city attorney to "report back regarding the actions necessary to exit the Exclusive Waste Franchise." In a statement, Englander said, "The waste haulers have had more than enough opportunity to work out the difficulties of the transition yet our constituents remain overcharged and underserved. There comes a time when we must recognize that the fault lies not with the service providers but with the program itself."
- The motion was seconded by Councilmember Paul Krekorian, though only because he wants options for canceling specific contracts and not the entire program, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. At least one other councilmember expressed support, though it's unclear how the full 15-member body would vote. The motion will first be heard by the council's environment committee, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
- Reversing course would be complex and expensive. The city is set to receive $15.6 million in franchise fees this year and close to $36 million for the upcoming fiscal year. The Bureau of Sanitation (LASAN) didn't respond to a request for comment on Englander's motion.
Frustrations with the $3.5 billion RecycLA program boiled over at a six-hour council hearing last week, with critical comments from councilmembers including Krekorian, and penitent testimony from the three largest service providers and LASAN. Yet no specific plans were made to cancel RecycLA at that time. Englander's motion may stir up that discussion and also show a sense of action for angry constituents, though it's unclear how much support the idea will gain in the coming weeks.
During the July-February transition period, a total of 28,000 service complaints were reportedly filed. This has become a popular talking point, including in Englander's motion, though those involved with the program say it may be misleading.
Service providers point out that even with the spike in complaints, they still have very high service rates. The fact that city officials underestimated both the number of customers and the total volume, and that the transition period was relatively short, have all been cited as compounding factors.
"The recycLA program has been in full implementation for less than two weeks. While any number of missed pickups is unacceptable, the 28,000 service complaints comprise less than 1% of the 3.5 million pickups made over the same timespan," Rob Nothoff, director of waste and recycling for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, told Waste Dive in an email. Nothoff added that going back to an open market system "would be reckless" due to the environmental gains made so far.
As of Feb. 1, the service providers are now on the hook for financial penalties related to any service issues with their estimated 80,000 commercial and multi-unit residential customers. While it's too early to measure the success of new diversion efforts, in part because the planned $200 million in infrastructure investment is still underway, some early signs are already apparent.
Companies have purchased hundreds of new low-emissions collection vehicles, engaged with food recovery organizations at an unprecedented scale and brought recycling options to customers that never had them before.
The catch is that all of the components involved with RecycLA make it inherently more expensive. Some service fees are being negotiated, but the overall rate increase is likely here to stay. That has frustrated customers, particularly those that can't pass costs on to tenants due to rent control, and left all involved with no easy solution.
No matter how smoothly RecycLA runs and how much waste can be reduced or diverted, achieving some of the most ambitious environmental standards of any major city in the country will come with a price. Council members prided themselves on these environmental gains when they voted to approve RecycLA. As is often the case with such big plans, the reality of implementing them is more complicated.