City Hall hazardous materials expert James Conway with an example of a home pick-up package desiged to properly dispose of waste. City Hall is rolling out a new program that will collect hazardous materials from Santa Monica residences and return them to the City Yards for sorting and disposal. (photo by Kevin Herrera)

CITY YARDS — Everything is mobile these days, including toxic waste.

The Office of Sustainability and the Environment will launch a new program today that allows Santa Monica residents to call and request pick up of hazardous waste, including paint, motor oil and solvents.

Rather than asking Santa Monicans to cart old chemicals and electronics to the collection center at 2500 Michigan Ave., they can call (800) 449-7587 to get the bags, zip ties and information needed to package up chemicals or devices and place them in a secure location on private property for pickup by one of four state-of-the-art vans.

This should sound familiar. City Hall tried to get the Household Hazardous Waste Home Collection pilot program off the ground in February, even going so far as to print up promotional materials, but it hit an unexpected roadblock in the form of Los Angeles County.

City Hall thought that county officials would approve the permit to open up the mobile collection program without resistance given the existence of similar programs in other parts of California, but the county fire department, which issues the permits, took time to “dot its I’s and cross its T’s” because of the variety of materials that the office wanted permitted for pickup, said Dean Kubani, director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment at City Hall.

The stated goal was to make sure the mobile units met all the requirements and could fit into the existing rulebook on hazardous waste disposal, but the effect was immediate.

“The county slammed on the brakes,” he said.

Since, Santa Monica has acquired the necessary permits, and has already begun pickup for the people who made reservations when the system originally opened up the phone lines.

City Hall chose to try out the program to make hazardous waste drop off more convenient, and to save between $90,000 and $100,000 per year in personnel costs, Kubani said.

That money isn’t pulled from thin air.

As of Sept. 17, City Hall will shut down the drop-off location at the City Yards six days a week. Residents will only be able to bring hazardous materials directly to the facility on Saturday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The eventual goal is to shut down the facility completely, possibly as early as January, 2012 if the six-month pilot program goes well.

“We want to transition,” said Andrew Basmajian, communications coordinator with the office. “We don’t want to cut people off cold-turkey.”

The vans are like hazardous waste collection yards, but in miniature, with all the same facilities, safety procedures and even similar permitting processes.

The floors of the vans have no holes in them, and are shored up by 4-inch plates along the sides so that no chemicals can escape.

“It’s essentially a bath tub,” said William Anderson, senior manager with Waste Management’s “At Your Door Special Collection” service, which contracts with City Hall.

The vans come equipped with the same tubs and disposal areas as the collection facility itself, as well as safety features like eye-washing stations.

Four of the vans are already operating, with two more on order.

When a resident calls the 800 number, they will order a kit which consists of a sturdy plastic bag, zip tie and information on what can be picked up and what can’t. At the same time, they will work with Waste Management to set a secure location where they can leave the sealed bag of chemicals.

On the appointed day, trained hazmat technicians will be deployed to pick up devices and chemicals.

The client has no obligation to be present for pick up.

The current Hazardous Waste Center sees roughly 5,000 drop-offs each year. Officials hope that the vans will be able to handle 4,000 of those in the first year, and expand the service as needed.

At present, paint reigns as the most popular drop-off, with 40,000 pounds of the stuff left at the center each year, said James Conway, a senior environmental analyst with the Hazardous Materials Center.

Household batteries are fairly common as well, particularly since the office put collection tubes in public locations like the Farmers’ Market, grocery stores and municipal offices.

“Imagine 36, 55-gallon drums of batteries,” Conway said.

After the materials reach the collection center, employees divvy them up into categories and send them to their respective disposal sites, where they can be reused in new products like fuels or asphalt, or cleaned and reused, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The disposal program is technically free for Santa Monica residents, and officials are pushing for state legislation that will keep costs contained by forcing manufacturers to take back used products or pay for their disposal.

Ultimately, the consumer still pays, either through the trash or back-end municipal programs like this.

Legislation like that could be costly for California businesses and products.

According to 2009 statistics compiled by the EPA, California has the most hazardous material producers in the nation, although it ranks 11th amongst states in terms of volume of materials created.

Texas, with the fourth-most manufacturers in the United States, gets the dubious honor of being the number one producer of hazardous materials in the country.

Santa Monica’s collection trucks accept all the same materials as the physical location, including aerosols, art supplies, auto products, all kinds of household batteries, cleaners, electronics, lubricants, poisons, light bulbs, thermometers, propane tanks, kerosene, sharp items and prescription medications.

Neither will accept explosives or radioactive materials.

A complete list of acceptable materials can be found at sustainablesm.org/hhw.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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