Correction: The Los Angeles Board of Public Works has not officially scheduled a meeting on recycLA for Feb. 2 at this time.
- The transition period for Los Angeles' recycLA franchise program ends Feb. 1, and the seven service providers are facing serious performance questions. Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion Jan. 10 directing the Bureau of Sanitation (LASAN) to report back on whether companies have "failed to fulfill their obligations" within 30 days and consider terminating individual contracts, as reported by the City News Service.
- This comes after the Los Angeles Times reported an estimated 28,500 complaints were filed July-Dec. 2017. About 65% of those complaints were against Waste Management and Republic Services, which cover four of the 11 recycLA zones. Athens Services, which covers three zones, accounted for 21% of the filed complaints.
- The race is on to address this before financial penalties kick in Feb. 1. Mayor Eric Garcetti has stated he plans to hold companies accountable. Doug Corcoran, director of public sector services for Waste Management, told Waste Dive he's hoping for "some reasonable fairness" due to unique circumstances. Republic Services shares these sentiments, but did not provide its own response. Athens Services couldn't be reached for comment.
The recycLA franchise program is the largest and most ambitious of its kind in the U.S. The city plans to hit big recycling targets by requiring diversion, labor and emissions standards in return for lucrative 10-plus year contracts. This was in the works for years, but it has quickly become clear that transitioning 65,000-80,000 or more accounts within seven months was optimistic.
Corcoran said Waste Management encountered 25-30% more material than expected, due to a lack of clear data and previous haulers abandoning accounts. The company called in at least a dozen drivers and mechanics from five states in December and pulled additional trucks to catch up on basic collection. Significant work remains to encourage the amount of recycling and organics diversion required.
“It's a paradigm shift," said Corcoran. "I think philosophically the business used to be about waste handling and disposal, and you added on, or you bolted on, recycling programs to try to recover some stuff. This is sort of flipping that on its head."
The program has already shown results in one sense. The sight of natural gas vehicles buzzing around Los Angeles is striking compared to older diesel models seen in some other cities. Haulers are also supporting local food recovery and electronics recycling organizations, along with food processing infrastructure, more than usual.
Yet the increasing acerbity of local op-eds, letters to the editor and public meetings shows this rollout has been problematic. Property managers and business owners are reporting multi-digit price increases. LASAN has identified at least 900 inaccurate bills so far. Gate opening and bin retrieval fees are also an ongoing dispute.
The system is designed for every customer to receive an in-person waste assessment to minimize costs and maximize diversion. That often involves multiple attempts to locate the appropriate contact at a property and may not immediately lead to a signed contract, meaning customers could be auto-enrolled at higher rates.
According to data provided to Waste Dive, more than 59,500 assessments have been completed and about 24,100 service agreements signed. LASAN advised against drawing trends without knowing the total customers in each zone. That data was not available. At the very least, it shows the scope of this work so far and how much remains to be done.
The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a key recycLA supporter, is sympathetic to all of the concerns, but still says the goals would be impossible under a non-exclusive system as some have proposed.
"We should expect bumps in the road. This is the largest such transition in the history of the country," said Rob Nothoff, director of waste and recycling. "We also understand now come February 1 it's a brand new game."
Further updates and possible grievances can be expected at a Feb. 6 Los Angeles City Council committee hearing called by Councilwoman Nury Martinez for a progress report, as well as a possible Board of Public Works meeting.