Glendale is facing a serious waste crisis.

Most of us create and dispose our garbage without thinking much about where it goes. If we’re homeowners, we reliably put recyclables in the grey bin, yard waste in the green bin and everything else in the burgundy bin. If we’re renters, we are at the mercy of our landlords, and if they decide not to have recycling bins at all, we have to throw it all in the trash and hope for the best. We figure the City has it all figured out after that. If only that were so!

The Scholl Canyon Landfill, which has been the dumping ground for most residential and some commercial waste, is quickly filling up. At current rates, it is expected to reach capacity sometime around 2028. The Scholl Canyon Landfill sits in a vibrant residential area alongside schools and parks. It’s an old dump which wasn’t designed with the safety features we would insist on today. It’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Some in the City want to expand the landfill so we can just keep dumping our garbage there (and also rake in profits by taking garbage from Pasadena and elsewhere). This might seem like an appealing solution, but it’s not right. As a City Councilmember, I will insist that plans to expand the landfill be taken off the table once and for all and that we focus on when and how to close it.

So where do we send out trash if there’s no local landfill? This question is complicated by the fact that our recycling and waste diversion rates are falling. Glendale is not alone in this. All cities in California are facing a recycling crisis because China and other Asian countries that used to buy much of our single-use, disposable items no longer want them. We may think we’re recycling when we put plastics in the grey bin, but most of it is now just getting dumped along with everything else. In fact, whereas Glendale was once earning some revenues from recycling, the overall program is now an expense item.

Fixing this problem won’t be easy, but there are things we can do.

First, we need robust food rescue and food waste composting programs. Organics are the single biggest source of landfilled waste and generate greenhouse gas emissions when landfilled. If our schools, businesses, restaurants and municipal departments work together to divert edible food to food banks and unusable food to compost facilities, we can have a big impact right there. We should also develop programs for residents to participate in these efforts.

Second, we need to reduce our use of single use plastics. Glendale implemented a plastic bag ban a few years ago. It’s now time to phase out most other single use plastics, including polystyrene (commonly called “Styrofoam”) take out containers and plastic cups and utensils. Pasadena implemented a polystyrene ban a couple years ago. Burbank is studying a broader ban on single use plastics. It’s time for Glendale to step up and be a leader in this fight.

Third, we need to leverage the City’s power to support markets for recyclable materials and require producers to take responsibility for the trash they force on consumers. Every time the City makes a purchasing decision, it should give preference to products made from recycled content. It should also insist on take back policies where suppliers are required to recover difficult-to-recycle and hazardous items, and minimize and reuse packaging. The City could also develop education programs to help businesses reduce their waste, and mandates if education doesn’t work. 

There are many other approaches Glendale can take to reduce the flow of waste we produce. These should be studied and brought together in the form of an aggressive Zero Waste Plan that meets the needs of the moment. Glendale developed a Zero Waste Action Plan in 2010, but there was only minimal follow through. As your Councilmember, I intend to take this problem very seriously.