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California City Solutions: Lancaster Expands Recycling Center and Program

October 30, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California city Solutions. Lancaster’s 24-Hour Recycling Center was submitted in 2014 for the Planning and Environmental Quality award category.

The city of Lancaster needed a solution to discourage illegal dumping along with hazardous material disposal in its spacious open desert. Methods for preventing, catching and prosecuting illegal dumpers failed to protect the city’s broad landscape and wildlife. By expanding the city’s recycling program and waste disposal options, as well as extending the hours of accessibility Lancaster successfully alleviated the environmental dangers and blight caused by illegal dumping, while boosting resources and giving back to the community.
 
Lancaster’s Public Works Department for years dealt with the consequences and nuisance of illegal dumping. The department received numerous calls to clean up improper disposal of used oil into gutters, alleys, by the roadside and throughout the desert. The hazardous materials also harmed the native habitat and species of the High Desert region.

The city noticed a pattern of behavior with offenders often times dumping their used oil at night. A citizen, Sheriff’s deputy or firefighter would find the evidence and report it to the city for clean-up. With oil considered hazardous waste within California, these calls would need to be handled immediately and with a trained staff member, taking away from the public works crew’s regular schedule. Staff understood a practical solution was necessary as the number of calls became more frequent.
 
Lancaster decided that residents required access to dumping facilities at convenient times and that collection drums should be made large enough to accept any quantity of oil at any given time. The few facilities available to take oil were only open during workdays and had a limited capacity.
 
E-waste proved to be another growing issue. Frequently people dumped broken or outdated electronics in trash bins and are not aware that e-waste cannot be dumped in regular landfills because the materials that make up such electronic devices is very hazardous and cannot be reused. The Public Works Department found itself responding to more e-waste calls than requests to clean up dumped oil.
 
In 2012, the city opened its drive-through 24-hour Recycling Center, located at the Public Works' maintenance yard. The center's 24-hour accessibility allows for easy drop-off of used oil at convenient dumping times like after work and on weekends. Patrons can dispose of oil in one of two separated 50-gallon drums — one for pure motor oil and another for oil mixed with transmission fluid — or leave their bucket for staff to handle.
 
The Recycling Center also provides locked bins for e-waste to help minimize theft and vandalism. E-waste items containing precious metals such as copper and gold can be pieced out, selling the metals for cash, which make them popular items for thieves. The Public Works Department staff dismantles the electronics in the locked bins, separating those which can be recycled and those which must be destroyed. Since the opening of the recycling center, the city’s oil and e-waste recycling numbers have skyrocketed by increasing recycling by nearly 20-fold, while reducing illegal dumping to a rare occurrence.
 
Continuing to educate residents is a key component to keeping the city’s recycling program going. Lancaster’s recycling center holds quarterly events, advertises in the local newspapers and radio and works with local schools. It is imperative that the community knows the recycling center exists and how to take advantage of its services.
 
The Recycling Center coordinators take e-waste bins to school fundraisers and various charitable events. E-waste drives increase collection and allows the city to receive a better bulk rate from e-waste partners than can be donated to an individual school or organization. The department also sponsors recycling booths at the California Poppy Festival and the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix, two heavily trafficked community festivals.
 
Lancaster’s goal in 2014 is to raise awareness among residents in apartment buildings and mobile home parks. Many of the residents at these complexes lack storage, which can allow items to pile up and create a junk problem on the property. The city coordinates with property managers to hold clean-up days where the recycling center delivers bins and hauls them away for free.
 
After the expansion and modernization of the recycling center two years ago, the number of e-waste bins a city-paid vendor removes went from one bin every three months to 16 bins per week. In 2013 the Recycling Center collected 390,000 pounds of e-waste compared to an estimated 500,000 pounds this year. The central processing unit portion of a computer alone can garner $12-90 per pound.
 
Additionally, Lancaster now recycles 12,000 gallons of oil annually. A private vendor pays Lancaster more than $1 per gallon, collecting the oil from the recycling center and processing it at their private plant. The recycling center recently expanded the list of items it collects, accepting antifreeze and cooking oil which it sells to another private company for converting to bio-fuel. Hazardous household materials such as paint and turpentine will also be added soon.
 
Lancaster’s plan to provide 24-hour recycling accessibility, efficiently maintain the recycling facility and increase public outreach is resulting in a cleaner community. Not only have recycling numbers improved and revenues increased, but the city is being recognized for its enhanced recycling program. The California Resource Recovery Association recently anointed Lancaster’s 24-Hour Recycling Center as the “Most Outstanding Household Hazardous Waste/Universal Waste and E-Waste Program of 2013.”


 
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