With a goal of achieving zero waste by 2040, San Diego is one of the top recycling cities in the country.
Just behind San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and Portland, Oregon, San Diego has reached a 65 percent waste diversion rate, with a 75 percent goal for next year.
While these goals are promising, they now face new challenges. We may be sending 65 percent less garbage to our only City dump, Miramar Landfill, but it's estimated the landfill will reach capacity by 2030.
And in 2017, China introduced a policy called National Sword to reduce contaminated recyclables they were importing (until then 60 percent of the world's recyclables). Announcing they were tired of being the "world's garbage dump," China shut down the market, forcing recycling facilities to find new buyers — and communities to find new ways — to avoid dumping.
What can we do in San Diego and Pacific Beach to reduce waste even more? Several community leaders and residents offered insights. These include improving the way we recycle, taking advantage of special recycling programs and events, and supporting legislation to reduce waste.
While most households and apartments in Pacific Beach have recycling bins and pickup service, many residents are not recycling correctly. They are throwing items that are dangerous, dirty or not recyclable into the bins. (See "Trash, NOT Recycle — The Top 10" and "The Dirty Half-Dozen" below.)
"It has now become even more important to place the correct materials in recycling containers," explained Ken Prue, recycling program manager for San Diego's Environmental Services Department.
"Food and beverage containers need to be empty, clean and dry, and recyclable materials should not be placed in bags. These steps help ensure that collected recyclable materials are able to be processed to meet required specifications and quality standards, and successfully marketed and diverted from the landfill. Increased recyclable material quality standards are here to stay."
Carolyn Chase, PB resident, Planning Group member, and co-founder of San Diego EarthWorks added: "The biggest issue for consumers under their direct control is contamination. The issue with contamination is related to food waste. A good example is a pizza box. Cardboard is recyclable; however, cardboard with grease on it is not. Plastic containers should be cleaned of excessive food waste before recycling."
Sorting correctly and making better buying choices also helps, according to Chase. "Knowing what plastics are NOT recyclable helps a lot! No plastic bags or plastic wraps — including plastic trash bags — are recyclable.
In addition to individual recycling, businesses can improve by supporting recent bans on plastic bags, single-use straws and Styrofoam containers. They can also recycle more and offer more recycling bins that are convenient to use, according to Chase. "Make sure there is a recycling bin next to every trash can."
Prue agrees that more businesses and their employees need to participate in recycling programs: "For businesses like restaurants, which generate large quantities of food waste, a key area of need in the City and region is to increase the recovery of edible food. The local food banks, food pantries and related service organizations play key roles in rescuing edible food and feeding people in need."
Rick Anthony, a PB resident and chair of the Zero Waste International Alliance, would like to see more recycling bins set up at community events and an expansion of the City's green waste pick-up service. As a consultant for the City's Zero Waste program, Anthony would also like to see households pay for recycling to raise revenues. Currently only business and apartment building owners pay for recycling.
Kristen Victor, Planning Group EcoDistrict chair, also agrees that PB residents can do more. They can advocate for more frequent pick-ups, especially in the summer when flies are a problem, and for green waste pick-up (currently available in about two-thirds of San Diego, but not in Pacific Beach, Mission Beach or La Jolla). They can also reduce waste with composting. She is currently testing a combination dog waste-green waste composting plan in her backyard. "Dog waste is a problem. It sinks to the bottom of the landfill and there is no oxygen to break it down," she explained.
Prue added: "Composting your food and yard waste at home is a great way to add nutrients back into your yard or garden. To help get started, the City offers free backyard composting classes that teach residents how to properly maintain a compost bin. The City also offers discounts on purchasing a compost bin for your home." (See the list "San Diego Environmental Services Recycling Programs" below.)
Special recycling programs
For those items that can't be recycled, or thrown in the trash, Pacific Beach and San Diego offer several events and programs throughout the year. These include City-sponsored programs, one-day events at local schools and drop-off locations for items such as electronics, hazardous materials and Christmas trees. (See list below.)
California's ban on plastic bags has helped, according to local leaders. "However, some businesses are still allowed to use them and do," said Chase. "But as a consumer, you don't need to accept them. The recent single-use plastic straw ban is also working. I would urge people to support legislation that requires producers to do the right thing.
"Overall, recycling is too complicated and it's mainly because producers have mostly declined to take responsibility for their product design and regulators don't make them."
Top 10 Trash List
According to San Diego Earth Times (April 2018), these are the Top 10 not-recyclable items that are currently found in our region's recycling bins:
1. Plastic bags
2. Food waste
3. Electronic waste
4. Wood waste
6. Waxed cardboard
7. Green waste
8. Fluids — water, soda, juices; items still in container
9. Batteries — car and household alkaline
10. Wiring and water hoses
The Dirty Half-Dozen
These items should not be recycled and often show up in recycle bins around the country:
1. Plastic bags, plastic film and wrappers
2. Paper and plastic drink cups, straws and coffee cups
3. Frozen food boxes and trays
4. To-go food containers and clam shells
5. Styrofoam blocks and foam peanuts
Environmental Services Recycling Programs
The San Diego Environmental Services Department (9601 Ridgehaven Court, 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday) runs the curbside recycling and curbside yard waste recycling programs, (858) 694-7000, email@example.com or sandiego.gov/environmental-services See the website for recycling guidelines, schedules and programs, handling hazardous waste, and the Miramar Landfill. You can download helpful flyers and brochures, and sign up for classes on composting. To view videos on recycling, visit sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling
• Household Hazardous Waste Program: Dispose of hazardous materials such as motor oil, oil filters, auto batteries, paint, medications, household batteries and fluorescent bulbs at events held throughout the year at different locations, (858) 694-7000, sandiego.gov/environmental-services/ep
• Compost Bin Voucher Program: The City has partnered with Dixieline ProBuild to offer compost bins at a discounted rate for San Diego residents, (858) 694-7000, sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/residential/composting
• Mattress and Box Spring Recycling: The California Used Mattress Recovery and Recycling Act aims to reduce illegal dumping, increase recycling, and reduce costs for disposing of used mattresses and box springs. The legislation established an industry-run, statewide program to increase the recovery and recycling of mattresses, byebyemattress.com
• Christmas Tree Recycling: Drop off Christmas trees through the third week in January at 16 sites, locally, Kate Sessions Park (Mt. Soledad Road and Loring Street), Miramar Landfill, 5180 Convoy St. (north of SR-52), Mission Bay, SeaWorld Drive at Pacific Highway. The trees are turned into mulch, compost and wood chips available for residents to pick up free at the landfill. (858) 694-7000; sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/events/christmas
• Miramar Landfill and Recycling Center: San Diego's only active landfill takes in approximately 910,000 tons of trash yearly and covers 1,500 acres at 5180 Convoy St. Methane, a greenhouse gas, produced as a byproduct of the landfill, is captured and used to provide 90 percent of the fuel to power electrical generators at the Metropolitan Biosolids Center and North City Water Reclamation Plant. In addition, high quality mulch, compost, and wood chips are made at the Greenery inside the landfill and are available to the public. Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Closed Sundays and holidays. (858) 694-7000, firstname.lastname@example.org, sandiego.gov/environmental-services/miramar
• 3 Recycling Drop-off Sites: Belmont Park (beach parking lot), 3146 Mission Blvd.; PB Recreation Center, 1405 Diamond St., South Mission Beach, 2500 N. Jetty Road.
• San Diego Unified School District Recycling Program: SDUSD spends more than $1 million on waste collection each year. In order to reduce costs and conserve resources, it operates a District-wide waste reduction and recycling program at more than 180 educational facilities, offices and departments. Programs include recycling scrap metal, wood, landscape waste, construction and demolition debris, electronics, shredded documents, batteries and fluorescent lamps. (858) 637-6268; sandiegounified.org/recycling;sdusdsustainability.com
Zero Waste San Diego
Based in Pacific Beach, Zero Waste San Diego is a volunteer organization devoted to helping communities reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Members participate in many events such as community workshops and the San Diego Earth Fair. The group also offers Fix-It Clinics throughout San Diego where participants can learn to repair items (computers, phones, toys, bicycles) rather than throw them away. zerowastesandiego.org; email@example.com
Inika Small Earth, Inc. is a composting collective and non-profit organization that offers training in composting techniques. The founder, Sarah Boltwala-Mesina, also started Food2Soil, which collects vegetative food scraps from local restaurants, composts the scraps at two urban farms in San Diego, and sells the finished product to local gardeners looking for high-nutrient soil. (858) 775-5235; inikasmallearth.org; food2soil.net