Los Angeles Asks Residents To Recycle Food Scraps

Emanuel Madison is a "recycling ambassador" in Los Angeles. i i

Emanuel Madison is a "recycling ambassador" in Los Angeles. He goes door-to-door touting the city's pilot food scraps pickup program. Mandalit del Barco/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mandalit del Barco/NPR
Emanuel Madison is a "recycling ambassador" in Los Angeles.

Emanuel Madison is a "recycling ambassador" in Los Angeles. He goes door-to-door touting the city's pilot food scraps pickup program.

Mandalit del Barco/NPR

Staying Green

Explore our series on getting rid of junk.

Garbage from all over Los Angeles to the Solid Resources Processing division downtown.

Garbage from all over Los Angeles is transported to the Solid Resources Processing division downtown. Mandalit del Barco/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mandalit del Barco/NPR
Garbage is picked out of yard trimmings to create mulch. i i

Garbage is picked out of yard trimmings to create compost. Mandalit del Barco/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mandalit del Barco/NPR
Garbage is picked out of yard trimmings to create mulch.

Garbage is picked out of yard trimmings to create compost.

Mandalit del Barco/NPR

Emanuel Madison goes door to door in Los Angeles' Leimert Park neighborhood as a "recycling ambassador." His mission: to distribute 2-gallon kitchen pails to houses targeted in an experimental garbage pickup program.

"I feel like Little Red Riding Hood," he jokes, "only I'm carrying green baskets."

Larry Roberts gets out of bed to answer the door in his underwear. Madison gives him the sales pitch, explaining that the City of Los Angeles is launching a food scraps program by offering residents in a targeted area the green containers to separate their household scraps — things like eggshells, meats, vegetables and bones — from regular garbage. The food scraps would be thrown into the new small pail and eventually dumped into a bigger recycling bin for lawn clippings.

Roberts points out that he's already dragging three bins to the curb as it is. "And essentially," he says, "it's all garbage."

"You want me to have a meal, then separate my garbage, which I'm already separating my cans and bottles, which I'm already separating my grass clippings from my trash?"

"Yes sir, yes sir," Madison nods.

"OK, what next, man?" Roberts jokes. "Do I need to sift through my feces as well?"

From Food Scraps To Compost

The city's plan is to try to divert 600 tons of wasted food that go to the landfills every day. The pilot program would have nearly 5,000 Los Angeles households join residents in cities like San Francisco and Seattle, which have been separating table scraps for years and recycling them into compost.

Garbage from all over Los Angeles is transported from sanitation trucks to the Solid Resources Processing division downtown.

"It stinks," admits operations manager Paul Blount, watching as truck after truck dumps refuse into larger trucks headed for the landfills. He says the transfer station takes in about 2,600 tons of garbage every day.

"There are a lot of recyclables in this pile," he says, pointing to plastic bottles, paper plates and a pile of leaves.

There are also tons of food in with the grass clippings and leaves, the so-called "green waste." Blount says those table scraps are a resource that can be recycled. The city is already recycling other organic materials.

Avoiding Landfills

Yard trimmings from all over Los Angeles are brought to Lopez Canyon in the San Fernando Valley. Here, workers make compost and mulch by picking out extra garbage by hand, then grinding it finer and finer. The final product is given away to local farmers and Los Angeles residents to use in their farms or gardens.

Solid waste disposal superintendent Jim Kirs says the idea for the food scraps program is to avoid adding to the landfills like the one at Lopez Canyon, a 250-foot high mound of trash.

"There's so much more that goes into the landfill that could be recycled," he says.

Preserving The Planet

Back on the streets, L.A. is depending on its recycling ambassadors to win over skeptical Angelenos like Robert Stinson. He's not interested in using the new green pails.

"Nah, I don't need it," he says. "I give my scraps to my dog."

But most people seem pretty happy to comply.

"It's not that hard to do, ya know? I just put it next to my kitchen trash there," says 85-year-old Lilly Ann Yamaka. She says she's eager to do what she can for the environment and future generations.

"The young people should be, too," she warns. "If they wanna have a planet left."

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