Palm Springs businesses could be fined for violating state recycling rules

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Businesses in Palm Springs could be fined anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per day for failing to abide by the state’s recycling laws. The Palm Springs City Council passed a city ordinance Thursday that allows for code enforcement and fines. 

The city ordinance does not include additional requirements regarding recycling or waste management beyond what the state mandates. However, if the city fails to enforce the state’s provisions, it can be fined up to $10,000 per day by the state, according to the council’s staff report

“There are no new or different requirements that we are imposing at the local level,” said Patrick Tallarico, sustainability manager for the city. The city isn’t required to have an ordinance, but, he said, in order to do enforcement, there needs to be a municipal code.

“As we know, some businesses just won’t comply until they know that they’re going to be fined,” Tallarico added.

The requirements fall under a combination of laws — the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, and AB 341, 1826, and 827 — with which the city says it is committed to complying. 

Since 1989, CalRecycle has required local jurisdictions to divert at least 50% of all waste generated from landfills through source reduction, recycling and composting programs. In 2011, with Assembly Bill 341, the state set a policy goal of having at least 75% of solid waste generated in California diverted from landfills by 2020. 

The city of Palm Springs has set its own goal of 90%. 

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Palm Springs Disposal Service provides once-a-week recycling collection services at no additional charge to customers; however, city staff noted, a business must first subscribe to the recycling service. Organic waste recycling services are an additional charge.

In annual compliance letters sent last year to all businesses subject to the law, the city notified businesses of its intention to adopt the ordinance codifying the state’s recycling requirements, noting that it could lead to fines for non-compliance. That alone generated better compliance, according to the staff report, but “there is still room for improvement.”

The compliance rate for AB 341 (recycling) in Palm Springs is about 90%, while AB 1826 (organics) compliance is about 40%, according to the staff report. About 450 businesses are subject to AB 341 and about 500 are subject to AB 1826.

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“In order to reach that goal, AB 341 set mandatory recycling requirements for certain businesses, and requires that local jurisdictions implement a recycling program to ensure compliance,” according to the staff report.

It requiresbusinesses that generate 4 cubic yards or more of commercial solid waste per week and apartment buildings with five or more units to subscribe to basic recycling collection services or the equivalent. 

AB 341 requires each jurisdiction implement a commercial solid waste recycling program, which may include: 

  • implementing a mandatory commercial solid waste recycling policy or ordinance 
  • requiring a mandatory commercial solid waste recycling program through a franchise contract or agreement
  • requiring all commercial solid waste to go through either a source-separated or mixed-processing system that diverts material from disposal

A similar bill (AB 1826) was enacted in 2014 which included provisions regarding organic waste. The state expanded the requirements last year via AB 827and, as of July, businesses subject to the recycling ordinances that allow customers access are supposed to provide containers — recycling and compost bins — for people to throw their recyclable and/or compostable trash away in. 

Though AB 827 took effect July 1, “it has had limited impact due to the COVID-19 restrictions on in-house dining,” according to the staff report. 

As of September, the threshold for the organics recycling program was lowered and now requires a business to comply if it generates two or more (instead of four or more) cubic yards of solid waste per week. 

The Palm Springs ordinance passed by the council adds these state requirements to the city’s municipal code allowing for local enforcement. 

The ordinance implements the following requirements related to recycling:

  • Subscribe to commercial solid waste recycling services through the City’s authorized waste collection contractor
  • Maintain recycling containers on their premises that are to be provided by the waste collection contractor
  • Source separate commercial recyclable materials from waste
  • Source separate organics recyclable materials from waste

Businesses that fall under these recycling rules are allowed to self-haul commercial and organics recyclable materials to a legally permitted recycling facility instead of subscribing to Palm Springs Disposal Services.

Some businesses may be exempt where space is limited or where there isn’t a lot of recyclable material generated.

“There’s a lot of space constraints here (in Palm Springs),” said Chris Cunningham of Palm Springs Disposal Services. Multi-family units, he explained, are not responsible for providing recycling for food waste, but are responsible for green or landscape waste. If such a business gets its green waste removed via landscapers, they’re in compliance, he added. 

Businesses will have 60 days to comply following an initial notice, but may be fined between $100 and $1,000 per day if they continue not to comply. 

The fine schedule:

  • First violation: $100
  • Second violation: $200
  • Third violation: $500
  • Misdemeanor: $1,000

If a businesses is not already in compliance, how much these services will cost depends on the type of new service required. Basic solid waste recycling service is provided as part of commercial trash collection services; however, high-volume generators would cost extra, according to the staff report.

Restaurants that generate food waste will be required to subscribe to PSDS for organics waste collection service — the number of collections per week and the size of containers will vary based on how much waste each restaurant generates.

Maria Sestito covers aging and the senior population in Coachella Valley for The Desert Sun. She is also a Report for America corps member and new to the desert. Please say “hello” via maria.sestito@desertsun.com or @RiaSestito.

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