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Trash, trash, everywhere trash

Keep looking for new MRF site, encourage change in habits.

Posted: March 23, 2008 1:50 a.m.
Updated: May 24, 2008 5:02 a.m.
While looking through an old copy of "Look" magazine circa 1958, I couldn't help but notice the number of cigarette advertisements so boldly touted in its pages. It was a different time and a different way of life 50 years ago.

We evolved since then as new information came to light and health consequences were better understood. For the most part, we continue to change our behavior in favor of adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Today we are at a similar crossroad in regards to consumption: particularly, our propensity to use goods and dispose of waste. It's evident we are leaving an enormous footprint on the planet in the way of landfills, which out of necessity we create to hold the residual impacts of our consumption.

So what is the answer? Change our behavior, of course, so that recycle, reuse and renew becomes the way we live. A change now is the prelude to future sustainability.

In a perfect world, every person would sort, recycle and minimize his or her trash as part of a weekly curbside service. Many do, but not in the numbers necessary to minimize the footprint we leave behind.

The problem
The need exists for a facility where all trash can be rifled through and recyclable materials reclaimed. It's a dirty job, but it can be done.

So if there's an undeniable need, a logical benefit and a feasible way of reducing landfill impacts, then what's the problem?

The problem is that for sustainability, this heavy industrial operation belongs in an area conducive to a heavy industrial land use.

In Santa Clarita, it does not belong adjacent to anyone's home - not in Newhall or Canyon Country, not in Saugus or Valencia or any other area where homes currently exist.

As part of the city's trash franchise agreement negotiated several years ago, commercial hauler Burrtec Waste Industries is required to build and operate a Material Recovery Facility, or MRF. These giant recycling centers fulfill the need of sorting and storing and shipping recyclable material.

To Burrtec's credit, the firm located three possible sites for its MRF. The first location was nixed because of a need for an additional at-grade railroad crossing that wouldn't be approved by Metrolink; the second location was abandoned due to unrelated litigation that could realistically tie up the project for years.

In its third attempt, Burrtec proceeded to purchase property on the east side of town along Sierra Highway adjacent to homes that rise above Golden Valley Road. The MRF morphed into a full-scale municipal solid waste materials recovery facility and transfer station when the application was filed with the city.

A solid waste facility involves more than recycling bottles and cans with an occasional half-eaten candy bar thrown into the mix. Rather, all trash from the city and surrounding areas will make its way to this facility - food waste, personal unmentionables, construction debris, lawn clippings, and the occasional hazardous waste some will choose to illegally discard. Once there, every trash truck will dump its load, and the contents strewn about and sorted. After recyclables have been removed, the residual trash will be staged in large trucks before making its way to a final landfill destination.

City staff is quick to point out that this facility is not a dump.

While it is true that no trash will be buried on the premises, the continuous comings and goings of garbage creates a never-ending presence of rubbish, even if only transitional.

Imposed risk
In a world of choices, there are risks we choose and risks that are imposed upon us. Smoking cigarettes is a choice we make; locating a municipal solid waste facility next to existing homes is a risk imposed upon us.

Our city has always prided itself on the preservation of existing neighborhoods, and we don't expect city officials to abandon constituents now. We have rallied together to stand against the potential negative effects of Elsmere Canyon, the Cemex megamine, and, currently, the Las Lomas project. Locating a solid waste facility so close to home and hearth is not conducive to the way we live. This time residents have rallied together to say, "This is the right project but in the wrong place."

After heated reaction and vocal disdain from eastside residents, Burrtec has recently suspended its application pending further study and evaluation. Bravo to Burrtec for making the right choice and taking that initial step. Residents encourage them to take the next step - a complete withdrawal, which will be a welcome relief.

But that doesn't solve our valleywide problem of reducing waste.

Perhaps for long-term sustainability, municipal trash hauling and sorting should become a public service operated by the city of Santa Clarita. After all, isn't the city in the business of providing services for its residents?

There is no better way to control our own destiny than to craft our own story. Only then can we accomplish the mandate of reducing waste and imagine a time when Santa Clarita can proudly claim zero landfill impact.

Meanwhile, at the city level, we must keep looking for alternative locations, and in the household we need to be more conscientious at the curb.

Teresa Todd is a Santa Clarita Valley resident. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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