- The San Diego City Council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to approve new seven-year contracts (plus three one-year extension options) with Allan Company and EDCO Disposal for the processing and marketing of the city's curbside recyclable materials.
- The agreements, which take effect on Sept. 1, have a not-to-exceed cost of $65 million over 10 years. San Diego's Environmental Services Department (ESD) anticipates a cost of approximately $41 million over the initial seven-year term — including $28 million for Allan Company and $13 million for EDCO Disposal.
- While an ESD staff report originally recommended the new contracts remove expanded polystyrene (EPS) material from San Diego's curbside recycling program, staff members reversed their recommendation on Tuesday. Per the department's new recommendation, the city will continue accepting the material for at least the next six months.
San Diego's 2017 decision to include EPS food containers in its residential curbside recycling program — part of the city's goal to achieve 75% diversion by 2020 — has proven economically contentious.
According to an ESD staff report, continued inclusion of EPS — which makes up 15 tons of 66,000 annual delivered tons of curbside recycled materials — would cost the city approximately $900,000 over a seven-year period.
Tuesday's city council meeting, however, saw ESD revise its original recommendation to discontinue EPS recycling. Instead, city staff plans to conduct a comprehensive review of the Zero Waste Plan in the next six months and develop a cost mitigation plan to ensure adequate funding for the new contracts' anticipated expenses.
The amendment recommendation didn't sit well with all councilmembers.
"Knowing that [EPS] is estimated in the staff report to be about a $900,000 cost to the city, I was particularly excited with the next evolution of this contract — that we would fully phase that out as part of our recycling stream, that we would not be absorbing that cost down the road. So I do not want to see that as part of this contract," said Councilmember Chris Ward during Tuesday's meeting.
"It just does not, from all evidence presented here, make sense that we authorize something that is 'not cost-effective' and we know is not ultimately recyclable at the end of the waste stream," he added. "I think we should use our empowerment as a city to continue to be able to phase out this material from use altogether."
According to Environmental Services Director Mario Sierra, the ostensible costs of EPS diversion — which prompted the staff's original recommendation — belie its additional benefits.
"As part of the existing diversion program, there's also the residual plastics that get captured as part of the process of recycling polystyrene," he told councilmembers on Tuesday. "So our processor is actually able to divert 2,750 tons of material that would have otherwise gone to landfill, of which there were 15 tons of EPS … That's what we're revisiting and reevaluating now — does it make sense for us to allow 2,750 tons to start going to the landfill?"
Councilmember Chris Cate voiced his support for ESD's new recommendation.
"Anything we can do to invest in [diversion] is a good investment, given the fact that this is the one and only landfill we have in the city, and we should do everything possible to divert waste from going in there," he said. "I don't think we're going to get to the point, at least in the near-term, where if I buy a TV, it's not going to come with block Styrofoam. It's going to be in there, and what we can do as a city to remove that from the waste stream is a good investment on our part."
Despite debate over continued inclusion of polystyrene in the program, the council ultimately opted to move forward with the new contracts.
"We are having a crisis throughout the United States — and probably the world — about recycling plastics because of China, and I hope that some wonderful entrepreneurial spirits in the United States get back into the plastic recycling business so that we can do that right here at home," said Councilmember Jennifer Campbell. "In the meantime, however, we need to move forward with this and accept it."