>Speaker: Roberta Dunlap


>Topic: Clean 'n Green in San Jose


>Roberta Dunlap is an Environmental Services Specialist with the

>City of San Jose Environmental Services Department (ESD). ESD was

>formed in 1993 to integrate San Jose's award-winning recycling,

>water conservation and wastewater treatment programs, and other

>environmental protection services.


>Roberta will describe new technology being used for the single

>stream collection and processing of materials from the City's

>curbside recycling program. Implemented by ESD this summer, the

>new program is making it easier for residents to manage their

>recyclables and get them to the curb.

Roberta began her talk by passing out posters that went into a lot of detail about what is and isn't recyclable in San Jose. She explained that when the city had gone to one bin for recyclables, many people had thought the city had gone to one bin for everything. That wasn't the case at all. She wanted all the recyclables in one bin, and all the trash in another bin. She also wanted people to put the two bins out at the curb on the right day TWO FEET away from each other, because that space is needed by the haulers to get their equipment around the bins when they collect it.

Then she gave us a brief history of her field. In the olden days, most people reused most things, and there was much less solid waste. Fiber for paper came mostly from recycling old cloth, and most people repaired and reused much more. Once mass production became cheap and practical, trash services became much more important. There were brief resurgences of recycling during WWI and WWII, when people cooperated for the war efforts, but since then more and more stuff went into the trash until Earth Day 1970 got people thinking about the future.

San Jose has been one of the most progressive cities in the country on solid waste since 1985, when the City Council passed one of the first curbside recycling ordinances in a large city. From then until July of this year, everybody was sorting their recyclables into four bins (glass, plastic, paper, and newspaper) and putting it on the curb. Since 1990, when California mandated a 50% reduction in the amount of waste going into landfills by 2000, San Jose has set the standard. Currently 53% of the stuff picked up at curbside here is recycled.

Since July, all of the recyclables have gone into one bin, and all of the trash into another. The trucks that come around and pick it up have two containers on them, one for recyclables and one for trash. They also have an automated arm that the driver controls with a joystick from the cab, picking up each bin and then pushing the appropriate button to put it in the right hopper. Roberta explained again that the city needs that TWO FEET between the recycling bin and the trash bin so that the arm can grab one without pushing over the other one. Once the stuff has been collected, the recyclables go the MRF (Materials Recycling Facility), where it is sorted and baled for sale on the commodity markets.

Roberta had a lot to say about the MRF, of which San Jose has two. They are large facilities, with conveyer belts carrying stuff from station to station. At each station one kind of recyclable is taken off, so that at the end of the line all that is left is paper. Some things, like tin cans that respond to magnets, are taken off by machines. Other things are grabbed by people at stations on the line as they go by. The total process is very labor and capital intensive. Citizens get a lot of value for the $14.95 that they pay the city each month for their weekly solid waste pickup.

Roberta finished her talk by explaining that recycling saves 95% of the energy that getting the same aluminum can from virgin material would. (Aluminum is the best case material, the savings are less for others.) Doing the numbers on the cans recycled in San Jose, about 33 million tons of carbon dioxide has not gone into the atmosphere because of our efforts.

Following her talk, Roberta answered questions. Here are some of the highlights of what came out in the Q&A:

San Jose is one of the few cities that recycles all seven different kinds of plastic (they are differentiated by the numbers on the bottom in the middle of the recyclable logo). It may be that some of the more exotic ones are being stockpiled somewhere, but none of it goes into the trash.

Ewaste is a huge problem, and San Jose does not take it in the normal trash pickups. Televisions are a bigger part of the problem than computers. San Jose has a contract with a company that takes apart such stuff when they pick it up. That contract requires that the ewaste stay in the USA, because the city had learned that sending it overseas causes bigger problems.

Yard waste is collected separately and composted. After this it is sold, mostly to farmers and landscapers as organic matter. It goes through a lot of testing to make sure it meets standards as required.

Many people are not aware how huge the piles of solid waste the city generates are. The MRF facilities process hundreds of tons of stuff every day. 950,000 people generate a lot of trash.

Tian Harter

For more info: www.ci.san-jose.ca.us/esd and www.sjrecycles.org