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May 13, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 13, 2005

City surveys businesses on garbage City surveys businesses on garbage (May 13, 2005)

Companies show support, skepticism for zero-waste

by Jocelyn Dong

When the clerks at Village Stationers on California Avenue receive a shipment, they not only get the merchandise but the packing materials. Some packaging can be reused or recycled, such as the Styrofoam peanuts they bring across the street to Keeble and Shuchat, which utilizes them to cushion the cameras they ship.

But there's more problematic packaging -- plastics not marked with recycling numbers, or other types of padding the city doesn't accept in its recycling program, said Debra Love, the store's manager.

"It kills me, putting that stuff in the garbage can," Love said. Even some manufacturers' helpful tips -- such as one that lists a recycling site in Hayward that accepts its unique packing material -- aren't practical for many businesses.

"I'm not sending a driver to Hayward," Love said.

Businesses produce about 75 percent of the Palo Alto waste that ends up in landfills. For that reason, the city is hoping that stores, restaurants, high-tech companies and other Palo Alto businesses will help the city reach a new and lofty goal: reduce the amount of city waste going to the dump by 90 percent.

The goal was adopted by the City Council last November, as part of strategic state, county and city plans for communities to become more "sustainable." Although named "zero" waste, the goal would allow 10 percent of garbage to go to landfill, while everything else is expected to be reused, recycled, or not used in the first place.

Palo Alto may have a long way to go, despite already being able to divert 55 percent of materials from the dump. The city's zero-waste task force recently completed a survey of commercial enterprises, and the results, released Thursday, indicate businesses have mixed opinions and desires to reduce their garbage.

Of the approximately 1,000 businesses surveyed, 54 responded. To the question of whether a company would be willing to publicly adopt a zero-waste goal, 18 said yes, 11 said no, and 21 said maybe.

Those who responded estimated they could reach about 77 percent diversion by 2015. Thirteen business people found the ultimate goal unrealistic, saying they could not reach 90 percent, even over time.

The greatest support was expressed for programs already in the works. Half of the respondents approved of the single-stream recycling program that will allow people to throw all recyclables into one bin, rather than sorting them out. That will begin in July.

Slightly less than half of the respondents supported keeping the current program that reduces garbage rates for businesses that recycle, and provides recycling collection at no additional fee.

Other ideas the businesses liked included establishing a resource-recovery park, implementing a yard-waste collection program for commercial establishments, and expanding the collection services to include food waste for composting.

Mary Wolf, owner of Printers' Inc. Café, is one businesswoman who would favor food collection -- if it were done in a timely manner.

"I think they're on the right track. Probably to cut my waste down the most would be to recycle the compost. But in the hot summer months ... that would need to go every day, or it would be disgusting," Wolf said.

And, she said, it can't be costly to businesses.

"I'm paying $600 a month for garbage. Do I want to pay more? Hell, no," she said.

Both businesswomen already recycle as much material as they can -- bottles, cans, newspapers, office paper, cardboard and more. They applaud the zero-waste goals and participated in the survey. But they insist any program must be well thought out. They currently run into problems such as other people dumping garbage items in their recycling bins and garbage cans. Once, Wolf found a giant ventilation air-duct in her large trash bin. She had to put a lock on it.

For much the same reasons, Love expressed concerns over having "community" recycling areas.

Another problem, they said, is when they've called the sanitation company for an extra pick-up, and no one comes. Service will have to improve to make the zero-waste program work, they said.

The commercial survey is one part of a larger effort to develop a zero-waste plan for the city. The city's task force, composed of business people, environmentalists, city staff and residents, have been meeting for months to create an operationally and financially viable roadmap.

Task-force members are also being surveyed. Preliminary feedback indicates support for setting a goal of waste diversion of 75 percent of materials by 2010 and recognizing businesses that are models of zero-waste principles.

The city is gathering the opinions of residents as well. A community meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, from 7-9 p.m. at Mitchell Park Community Center, 3800 Middlefield Road. Senior Staff Writer Jocelyn Dong can be reached at [email protected]


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