CITYWIDE — One of the first five hazardous waste centers set up in the country shut its doors earlier this month, closing a chapter in providing a place for folks to dump their batteries, paint and cleaning products.

City officials said the cause for shutting down the full-service Household Hazardous Waste Center was due to budgetary constraints and the recession.

The center, located in the City Yards, began serving the public in 1987.

City officials said Santa Monicans can be assured their hazardous waste will continue to be taken care of in the form of a pilot program City Hall has been using for the past two years that focuses on household pick up.

The Household Hazardous Waste Center is now a thing of the past. (Photo courtesy city of Santa Monica)

City Hall expects to save $100,000 annually by closing the facility, said James Conway, senior sustainability analyst in the Office of Sustainability and the Environment at City Hall.

“We’re trying to make it as practical as possible for everybody, but remind people not to illegally dump their hazardous waste,” Conway said.

The center collected 250,000 to 280,000 pounds per year of waste, but was already seeing the effects of the recession after it reduced its original hours from four days per week to one day per month, Conway said. Even with working one day a month, city officials still had to bring in six or seven technicians from the contracted company, PSC Environmental, to operate the facility, he said. It took $430,000 per year to run it.

There was one permanent employee at the facility, who will now work in the battery recycling program, Conway said.

During the 1980s, when Brian Johnson was in charge of running the facility, it was the early days of awareness and regulatory oversight of household hazardous waste facilities. Johnson is now deputy director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. He said it required a significant effort to get a permit because state regulators didn’t see the community benefit of household hazardous waste facilities.

There was an overarching assumption from the public that “the government was taking care of us,” he said.

Santa Monica was involved in many pioneering, environmental, sustainable initiatives while he was at City Hall, he said. For example, Johnson said he got businesses to disclose the presence of hazardous materials on their premises.

“We were waking up this giant in recognizing that households are generators of hazardous chemical waste and they should be segregated because it was a danger to both them and the entire solid waste system,” Johnson said.

While one chapter of disposing off hazardous waste has closed, City Hall is providing an alternative.

Residents can use the Home Collection Program where residents can call a phone number to have someone come up pick the waste. Folks receive a collection kit in the mail that includes detailed instructions with a collection day reminder. Toxic materials like pharmaceuticals can be left on the porch or the driveway the day of the pick up. There have been 2,100 pick ups at different addresses in the past two years, Conway said.

The service is also contracted out to another company, Conway said, and the turnaround time is about two and a half weeks.

“People will have to be a little patient,” Conway said.

The closure of the waste facility isn’t a loss for City Hall, but an evolution of the problem of disposing of hazardous waste, said Martin Pastucha, director of Public Works for City Hall.

“It’s about making it convenient and providing an option,” Pastucha said. “These are people who are driving in and now they’ll be able to do it from home.”

Conway said the waste goes to a facility for processing in Anaheim, Calif. The waste center is completely closed to residents and on a very limited basis is available to small businesses for a fee.

Another option is dropping off hazardous materials at a collection center at UCLA.

City Hall is also working on drop-off sites for pharmaceuticals and paint.

To reserve home collection pick up, call (800) 449-7587, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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