County lags behind waste goal

03/20/2014

The County of Marin is aiming to produce “zero waste” by 2025 by recycling or composting virtually all its output. But a county watchdog found that the Civic Center and county jail have been seriously derelict in diverting waste, with tons of potentially recyclable materials ending up in landfills because of internal confusion over the recycling process. The county as a whole diverted about 75 percent of waste in 2012, or 10 points higher than the state average. But the civil grand jury estimated that the civic center only diverted 45 percent, and the jail a paltry 15 percent. The grand jury’s investigation spurred both facilities to improve recycling practices. When the jury initially requested data on diversion rates, it received a 2012 report from Marin Sanitary Service. The report said the civic center was diverting 84 percent of its 243 tons of waste, but that number turned out to be a miscalculation. The greatest contributor to the Civic Center’s poor rate was confusion among employees about how waste is recycled. Most of the building’s waste is emptied into a 25-yard debris box, which is processed by the Marin Resource Recovery Center. County employees thought that the recovery center was ripping open trash bags in the debris box to separate the waste, so they might not have worried about tossing Coke cans or water bottles in a trash can. But in fact all bagged waste, even those full of recyclable material, was sent to a landfill; the recovery center only separates freestanding waste. “Unfortunately, this meant that all waste generated at the Civic Center, with the exception of most paper, most cardboard, and the limited contents of the hallway recycling bins, was going directly to the landfill,” the grand jury wrote in a report titled “Recycling by the Marin County Government: Walking the Talk,” released on Feb. 27. The jail’s diversion rate was worse than that of the civic center; the grand jury found that 60 percent of what it sends to a landfill could instead be diverted. The jail is somewhat constrained by safety and security issues unique to the facility, but 25 percent of waste sent to the landfill was comprised of steel cans alone. The jail began recycling those cans during the jury’s investigation.