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[GreenYes] RecycleScene Commentary
Millennium Memoir
Richard Anthony

I have been working in the recycling industry for thirty years now.  

It actually started out as a serve the people thing.  My thesis for my
masters was Alternative Forms of Decentralized Public Administration.  I
looked at student movements around the world and their activities in 1968 and
then applied their organizing principles to American mass movements like food
cooperatives and recycling centers. After our band of activists won the
Associated Students election in 1971, I was appointed the Recycling Center
Assistant Manager.  It was a peoples’ movement and we were in charge.

Last June, my daughter Laura graduated in the class of 2000 with a BA in
Women's Studies from San Diego State University.  She was in her senior year
when she realized that she needed to pick a major.  It came down to Public
Administration or Women's Studies.  With my experience in government over the
last thirty years, I could never advise her to pick a career in Public

I believe you can change things from the inside, but not without

One of first people I hired when I went to work as the Solid Waste
Coordinator for the Fresno County Public Works Department in 1980 was a woman
who had a degree in Women's Studies from Fresno State.  She was the only
applicant that answered yes to the question,“ Do you recycle?” We were able
to do some good.  We helped host the first national recycling congress.  We
also spent a lot of time siting, permitting, mitigating problems and
apologizing for landfill.

My salad days in Recycling occurred in the late eighties.   

During my watch as Principal Solid Waste Program Manager for the San Diego
County Public Works Department all County landfills were engineered to meet
California and Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCA) Subtitle
B requirements.  We funded from the tip fee to Cities or their haulers,
grants for equipment, market development and gave cash payments for tonnage
recycled.  We provided over 3 million dollars annually for Household
Hazardous Waste roundup events around the county.  We passed and implemented
a mandatory recycling ordinance that prohibited the land filling of
designated recyclables including yard, multifamily and commercial waste.  We
built the worlds largest and most sophisticated “kind of dirty” Materials
Recovery Facility (MRF). We were recognized as the best program in California
in 1990, and the best regional program in the United States in 1993.   

We reduced the tonnage at County landfills from 2.5 million tons in 1987 to
1.2 million tons in 1993.

As one of my Deputy Directors said to me in regard to my optimism and
enthusiasm “No good deed goes unpunished.”  Political pressures were applied
and the County Administrative office began calling for staff to criticize and
attack the recycling programs as expensive and polluting.  Staff had to make
a decision to stand or bend.  We refused to bend and so it goes that every
action will have a reaction and in San Diego it led to the privatization of
the County landfill system.    

We had served the people and implemented the programs.

New politicians with different agendas were elected.  The Board of
Supervisors in San Bernardino County was privatizing its Solid Waste Division
by contracting out the services to a private company, when the election of
five new members of the Board of Supervisors in San Diego occurred.  The
threat of bankruptcy of the Orange County Government and their sale of
landfill capacity to raise funds contributed to the politics of the day.

Increased recycling and mega site expansions in the Nineties made landfill
capacity competitive and owners were taking short-term losses with lower tip
fees to keep up cash flow to make payments.  In San Diego County the
implementation of a 50% surcharge to cover liability at County landfills for
non Authority members became the breaking point.  It became less expensive
for some Cities to haul waste north to Los Angeles and Orange County or east
to Arizona than to take it to San Diego County landfills and pay the

The out of county hauling of refuse caused a strain on the San Diego County
Solid Waste Enterprise Fund.  Decreasing waste at the MRF and landfills
forced the County to cut back solid waste services and eventually the County
closed the MRF. The closure caused the banks that loaned the money to build
the MRF to worry about their payments and the County was forced to buy them
out to keep a favorable credit rating.   

A new County Administrative Officer (CAO) came to town to solve the problem
of Solid Waste.  The new CAO requested proposals for sale of the system and
cut a deal where all the operating landfills and the MRF would be sold to a
private entity for $180 plus million dollars cash.  A massive public
relations program was initiated to persuade civic leaders that it was in the
County “best interests” to sell the system. One of the key selling points
stated repeatedly by the new CAO, was that despite running one of the best
systems in the country for a half of a century, “…the County “staff” did
not possess the “core competency” to operate its landfills.”  

In one of the few public meeting where the sale of the County of San Diego
Landfill and MRF system was discussed (most discussions were in closed
session due to the negotiations), the Sierra Club, the League of Women
Voters, the CRRA, and the Union (SEIU) all asked the Board of Supervisors to
wait 30 days for a public discussion of privatization of public lands.  
Speakers begged that this decision be made with public debate and not in
private closed sessions.  One member of the Board of Supervisors responded to
this with the comment that, “Maybe we need to make all of our decisions
behind closed doors.” The Board of Supervisors went on to approve the
contract 5-0 that day.

Today, several former CAO’s and solid waste management officials from San
Bernardino County have been charged, and some already convicted, for bribery
related to the award of contracts regarding the privatization of the
operation of the County solid waste programs.  The political process of
divesting public property and services involving the private sector for solid
waste programs and facilities in San Bernardino appears tainted.  

An owner of a former San Diego County based Refuse Collection Company
admitted and paid a multi-hundred thousand-dollar fine for reimbursing
employees for making contributions to political campaigns for local and
county elected officials.  In most cases he and his employees regularly sent
money to at least three elected officials in every City he had a franchise.   

A recent newspaper article informs us that the tipping fee at the privatized
county landfills will be raised to $43, up from $30, heading toward $50.

Today, the cities in San Diego County, obligated by law to implement their
Recycling and Household Hazardous waste plans miss the luxury of a tipping
fee to fund their programs.  Lack of public discussion allowed the golden
goose to be sold for a percentage of what had been invested by the public and
its future value in permitted landfill capacity.  However the cash from the
sale balanced the County budget, paid for a facelift of the County
Administrative Building and provided several years of executive incentive

The issue of who owns the liability from the BI-products of the garbage put
in before they were sold has yet to be resolved.  Unable to move from
pro-recycling to anti-recycling, I had to move on.  The choice of being a
pollution manager and an apologist for landfill was unacceptable.  I tried
Wastewater Management for a while.

I think requiring the cost of wasting to be born by the producer of the
product is the right thing to do.  Beverage container deposits fund the
recovery infrastructure and effectively recover containers.  The single use
product industry is against this.  After living through an era of government
bashing it offends me to hear product manufactures proclaim that waste
management is the governments responsibility.  

The relationship between landfills and the single use products industry is
that, one cannot get along without the other.   

The unfairness is that we, who would conserve, reuse and recycle, pay for
pollution costs incurred by those who choose not to conserve.  Let the real
cost of the product include its recycling cost.  In a peoples’ movement, we
can vote with our dollars.  If it is not recyclable we shouldn't buy it.

As for me, I am an active member of the Board of Directors the Grassroots
Recycling Network.  We are rallying recyclers around the world to use zero
waste as a goal, and producer responsibility as a challenge.  We have asked
all recyclers to ask Coca Cola to use recycled beverage container materials
when manufacturing more containers. Check our web site out at
We are promoting an international peoples movement for zero waste, jobs from
discards and ending welfare for wasting through elimination of tax subsidies
and requiring producers to be responsible.

I think the government is the appropriate authority to protect and conserve
our natural resources.   

We need to stay vigilant and help our elected officials be strong and
recognize that environmental quality is a priority. By doing this we will
protect public administrators who are trying to comply the needs of all the
people.  We need to round up the 200 million recyclers in America and get on
the same page regarding buying recycled, producer responsibility and ending
welfare for wasting.  The new millennium will bring on new pressures to find
opportunities to conserve resources as the population of the world swells to
the earths loading capacity of 12 billion people.  This may happen in my
daughters’ lifetime.

Richard Anthony is a member of the Board of Directors of the California
Resource Recovery Association and can be contacted at, or  

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