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California City Solutions: Cathedral City’s Waste Curbed with Myriad of Recycling Choices

March 20, 2015
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. Cathedral City’s Waste Management Program was submitted in 2014 for the Planning and Environmental Quality award category.Cathedral-City-Community-Posters.jpg
 
One small action can make a difference in the world — this is the message that Cathedral City’s Environmental Conservation Division (ECD) tries to exemplify with its environmental quality efforts. The city’s goal is to divert more than 50 percent waste from local landfills through its Waste Management Program. The multi-faceted initiative comprises Refuse and Recycling, Stop Identity Theft shredding events, the Sharps Disposal by Mail System and several youth-focused recycling and conservation projects.
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More than 2,000 years ago, the Cahuilla Indians inhabited what is Cathedral City today. The Agua Caliente Band of the tribe has held 28 percent of the land since 1876. Incorporating in 1981, the city’s rugged natural terrain and warm climate attracted residents and its convenient location to Interstate 10 became a draw for relocating businesses. As its population grew, so did the effects of the multiplying manufacturing businesses, only adding to environmental problems that had been plaguing the Coachella Valley for decades.
 
The city formed the ECD to find solutions to local environmental problems with the diversion of waste from local landfills a top priority. For many years, landfills overflowed with refuse and toxic materials, which released greenhouse gas emissions and compromised air quality. The ECD wanted to develop an ambitious program that would reduce the quantity of debris being dumped into landfills and help improve air quality.
 
Creating awareness that conservation improves quality of life and engaging residents proved to be one of the most difficult challenges. The city found it hard to educate residents and encourage the entire community to work with the city to reduce its carbon footprint. By adding new waste management programs annually, Cathedral City’s environmental conservation and public works manager hopes to inspire residents to make one minor change each day to help improve the environment. Cathedral-City-Shred.jpg
 
The Waste Management Program developed a number of successful initiatives for residents, including: 
  • Refuse and Recycling Program offers several methods of recycling to residents. A curbside refuse and recycling system, utilizes colored bins to help residents separate trash from green waste and recyclables. The Electronics and Tire Recycling Program, offered every Tuesday, allows residents to drop off old computers, TV’s, microwaves and other items for disposal and recycling. Additionally, the Household Hazardous Waste Facility is open every Saturday for disposal of hazardous materials such as antifreeze, used batteries, motor oil and latex paint. 
  • Stop Identity Theft promotes events and educational materials about shredding documents to prevent identity thief. On a monthly basis from October through May, a shredding truck is available at a local parking lot for residents to use. Large containers are supplied and designated for confidential paper documents at all senior housing communities in the city, as the city’s research shows that 10 percent of identity Cathedral-City-Sharps-Take-Away.jpgtheft victims are over the age of 60. A shredding truck visits senior communities on a bi-weekly basis and documents are shredded onsite and recycled for future use.
  • Sharps Disposal by Mail is the nation’s first city-run free and convenient mail-back system allowing legal self-injectors a safe way to dispose of needles, lancets and syringes. With the cooperation of local pharmacies, legal self-injectors receive a box to place used needles and ship them to a facility that will responsibly dispose of the materials. 
  • Student Creative Recycling Art Program (S.C.R.A.P.) Gallery teaches students from Kindergarten through Grade 12 about environmental issues by making art from discarded materials, discovering creative ways to conserve resources and recycle.
The city worked with ECD to create a Refuse and Recycling Guide of the city’s distinctive waste management programs. Available in English and Spanish, the guide allows families and individuals to choose programs that fit best into their daily routines. Cathedral-City-school-recycling-program.jpgECD also annually publishes an Environmental Calendar with information and dates about environmental events for participation.
 
Quantitative figures resulting from these waste management programs have shown that even the smallest change in a daily routine can have a significant impact. The curbside recycling program alone has seen a 75 percent increase, while some 350 businesses donated recycled paints, scraps and materials to art projects diverting more than 750,000 tons of trash from reaching the municipal waste stream.
 
ECD’s Stop Identity Theft shredding has not only cut down on the amount of weight in local landfills, it raised awareness on taking steps to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. More than 32,000 pounds of shredded paper have been recycled to date. Shredded paper from the monthly Stop Identity Theft event and senior communities is sold to recycling facilities that recycle the paper to be used for dry-wall, benches and innovative products, as well as more traditional recycled paper products. Onsite shredding services are available as several other Coachella Valley cities are now hosting shredding events.
 
Cathedral-City-Community-Garden.jpgThe Sharps Disposal by Mail program allowed for the safe and proper disposal of approximately 450,000 needles. A TakeAway program was added, using a similar model to properly dispose of prescription medications that are outdated or ready to be discarded, keeping potentially harmful and toxic waste from landfills.
 
Studying at the S.C.R.A.P. Gallery inspired local youth to work with principals and teachers to craft a school recycling program and community garden. Bins and signs are provided by ECD for recycling, while students manage the program. Learning how to tend to the school and community gardens teaches students to reduce consumption of processed and packaged foods, Cathedral-City-Cans-for-Cash.jpgthereby decreasing the amount of paper, plastic containers and wrappers reaching trash bins and landfills.
 
Effective partnerships are essential to the success of Cathedral City’s waste management plan. ECD partners with Burrtec Recycling & Services and Cintas shredding to insure that waste materials are repurposed in a quick and economical manner. Cathedral City works with the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery on waste diversion rules and the state’s Air Resources Board on air quality management, whose support during the past seven years has made it possible for ECD to implement diverse environmental projects. The Environmental Conservation and Public Works Department collaborates with the city council, as well as other departments, and community members to create a diverse and highly effective waste management program.


 
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