THERE IT GOES: Derwin Banks of Santa Monica's Resource Recovery and Recycling service helps locals shred documents and recycle old electronics at the City Yard last year. (File photo)
THERE IT GOES: Derwin Banks of Santa Monica’s Resource Recovery and Recycling service helps locals shred documents and recycle old electronics at the City Yard last year. (File photo)

CITY HALL — The City Council got a first look at an ambitious plan to turn Santa Monica into a zero waste city in less than two decades, a program that will require major changes in the way residents think about the garbage they produce.

When all the pieces are in place, the effort would prevent 95 percent of the things it tosses from going to the landfill. Under existing policies, Santa Monicans divert 77 percent of their trash.

That would go up to 80 percent by 2015, 85 percent by 2022 and the full 95 percent by 2030, or a per-capita disposal of 1.1 pounds per person.

Getting over that hill will take a lot of effort, including new policies, practices and even regional infrastructure that does not yet exist, said Kim Braun, manager of the Resource Recover and Recycling for City Hall.

It also means that people must begin to think of things they disregard as trash — like banana peels or old packaging — as a valuable resource.

“What we’re talking about is a paradigm shift,” Braun said.

The plan splits changes into short, medium and long term goals which build upon one another until the ultimate objective is achieved, and although changes start small, they get progressively more difficult.

It envisions mandatory recycling of plastic water bottles, cardboard, yard trimmings and disposal of construction debris that can be recycled or reused, and required diversion rates for homes and hotels, respectively.

City Hall could get in on the action by creating new disposal programs, like bulky item pickup and options to recycle new materials like carpets, mattresses and other textiles.

The end result may be new businesses that deal specifically with these kinds of materials, and therefore economic growth and vitality, the plan suggests.

Individuals and businesses may be asked to separate their food scraps from other trash for a separate collection and changing up disposal routes so that refuse gets picked up once every two weeks while organics and recycling would be a weekly service.

That would result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, assisting in the air-quality goals in the plan.

Some of the changes that seem easier, like teaching people to use different bins for different waste, may be the furthest out.

In some cases, the technology to dispose of items doesn’t exist, or if it does, facilities that can accept things like organic waste don’t have the capacity to take on Santa Monica and the host of other Southland cities like Pasadena, Glendale and Los Angeles that are pursuing no-waste policies.

Success will also require a lot of education and outreach to get people and businesses familiar with how programs work, what’s allowed and what’s not.

“We can’t achieve zero waste without the support of community members, businesses … and having awareness in homes, schools and institutions,” said Michelle Leonard, a consultant with CS Engineers, who presented the plan.

Residents and businesses will play a key role in reducing both waste and greenhouse gas emissions, but City Hall is also taking a hard look at its own practices to ensure the city as a whole meets its goals.

The plan commits local government to the same 95 percent diversion rate as its residents, and plans for recycling and composting at all municipal facilities by the end of 2015.

The entire complement of fleet vehicles will rely on clean fuels by 2030, and local leadership plans to take the fight to businesses through state advocacy or city law to reduce packaging and waste creation.

“The city needs to walk the talk and talk the walk,” Leonard said.

It’s impossible to get into significant policy changes without raising the question of cost.

Some policies are inherently expected to save money compared to existing ones. The bi-weekly refuse collection would cut down on pickup costs, as would the concept of wet and dry collection, which means separating out wet materials from dry ones.

Many others will cost, particularly new programs like bulky item collection or processing to extract energy from waste.

In the long run, it won’t matter.

Puente Hills, one of the largest landfill sites in the country and one that Santa Monica uses, will close this year, and others are not far behind.

That will drive prices up, Braun said.

“We have a real economic driver in addition to our values,” said Councilmember Terry O’Day.

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