San Diego will allow polystyrene food containers in curbside recycling bins
- The San Diego City Council voted unanimously to approve the inclusion of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food containers in the city's residential curbside recycling program at a June 20 meeting, as reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune. This will apply to singe-family homes, which have already had the option to recycle EPS packaging material since 2014, starting on July 1.
- This city's current contract with IMS Recycling and Allan Company will be amended to note the change. Research conducted by the city's Environmental Services Department (ESD) estimates that transportation and secondary processing of the material will cost $90,000 per year. The money will come from the city's Recycling Enterprise Fund, which totaled $3.3 million in the most recent fiscal year.
- According to the 2016 ESD report, Dart Container Corporation offered grants for densification equipment through the Foodservice Packaging Institute. Disclosure forms show that Dart paid Falcon Strategies an estimated $125,000 between January 1, 2015, and March 31, 2017, to lobby the mayor's office, council members and ESD officials in support of an ordinance allowing curbside EPS container recycling.
San Diego originally considered this idea in October 2016, decided its projected annual cost of $290,000 was too high and asked ESD for an additional report. In December, the agency came back with a new $90,000 option for the city's recycling contractor to include EPS with "various grades of residual plastic materials" that it sends to a "secondary processor for further sorting." Ken Prue, ESD's recycling program manager, confirmed via email that this secondary processor is Titus MRF Services. The previous option was more expensive because it would have entailed retrofitting the two existing MRFs that San Diego currently contracts with.
Expected volumes haven't been publicized, though the city's most recent waste characterization report showed EPS accounting for about .05% of overall material in 2012. This idea has been pitched as another step to achieve San Diego's goal of 75% diversion by 2020. Other cities with similar diversion goals, such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have taken different approaches by banning use of EPS food containers. Following the recent failure of a statewide bill in California, Los Angeles council members have begun pushing for the idea as well and state environmental groups remain skeptical of EPS recycling.
Dart is often a leading proponent of EPS recycling, either directly or through various industry groups, and continues to open new drop-off locations around the country. Densification equipment is becoming a more common solution to transportation costs, and companies such as Agilyx are promoting their ability to process it, but few municipalities have moved forward with curbside collection for EPS.
A similar curbside collection bill has been introduced in New York, though the city's Department of Sanitation reaffirmed its previous determination that EPS recycling isn't viable in a recent report. Following that determination, the city plans to enact a new ban on EPS products starting in November after previous efforts were overturned by a judge. Though Dart or other supportive groups could still attempt another legal challenge, and may now point to San Diego as a prime example of their vision.
- The San Diego Union-Tribune Instead of ban, San Diego will allow recycling of foam food containers
- San Diego City Council Amendment to Curbside Recyclable Materials Processing & Marketing Contract
- San Diego Environmental Services Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Food Container Recycling Study
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