Stephen Grealy, the affable man with the Australian accent standing in the middle of the Miramar dump recently, is deputy director of the euphemistically named Environmental Services Department of the City of San Diego.
Grealy has the impossible job of simultaneously trying to reduce the flow of trash into our Miramar Land Fill next to the Marine Air Station while at the same time actively seeking enough dumpers to pay the tipping fees that finance the city operation.
The more dumpers, the more money for city operations.
But, also the more dumpers, the sooner the canyons will be filled, confronting the city with a financial crisis rivaling Christine Kehoe’s underfunding of the city retirement system.
The key issue in trash disposal is that the primary cost is the retail haul from our houses to the dump.
While having these huge, proximately located canyons to throw trash in is a short-term blessing, it is a long-term curse.
I say “curse” because the convenient canyons allow the city to ignore the fundamental problems of waste.
Given term limits, no council member or mayor will be around to face the consequences of present inaction.
Burying trash is simply old technology. The problem with doing so is that burial wastes both the energy locked up in the trash and the surface space under which it is buried.
You know those undulating portions of state Route 52? Yep, that is where the highway travels over a former dump.
The buried trash turns into noxious gasses which waft downwind while allowing the surface to settle indefinitely.
The south end of Mission Bay next to SeaWorld is also an old dump. Thus the city is unable to authorize construction of a Disney-type resort hotel that would complement SeaWorld’s business and provide generous revenues for the maintenance and operation of the Mission Bay complex.
There is a large former dump along the north side of state Route 94 that represents another useless tract of land. And an unused dump location in Oak Park is open and waiting for a trash operation that would adversely impact the community.
Other countries and communities, which do not have convenient canyons, just stack their trash up into “Mount Trashmores” which both leak gases downwind and leach poisons into the water tables.
There is a successful Zerowaste.com movement that concentrates on reducing waste “upstream” via intelligent engineering.
As Zerowaste advocates point out, as long as manufacturers do not have to pay for dumps, they have little incentive to re-engineer their products.
Wal-Mart has an aggressive repackaging program for its suppliers for the sheer reason that Wal-Mart does not want to transport and process unnecessary wrappings.
To Grealy’s credit, the city has moved into recycling “green” material. In one section of the dump, they collect it, mulch it and re-sell it.
They are doing the same with glass, metals, plastics and construction materials.
Good for them.
As to funding, Mr. Grealy reflects the city staff’s ancient complaint against the People’s Ordinance of 1919, bemoaning the law that eliminated the charge for residential trash pickup.
The People’s Ordinance was a wise move by the City Council and voters. Rather than have our street-sides, canyons and vacant lots covered with trash, the voters decided that everyone would pay and the city would clean up.
Adding trash fees now would be requiring citizens to pay twice for trash pickup.
Irrespective of Grealy’s best efforts, there will likely be a waste stream for our lifetimes.
The city should evaluate the alternatives.
I previously wrote a column here called “From trash to gas to cash in a flash” in which I reviewed the Japanese electrical arc technology to “gasify” solid waste into its constituent gases.
The component gases are sorted and then sold as an energy supply. Trash becomes a valuable fuel rather than a waste to be disposed of like cats bury their feces.
No more stinking, leaking, sinking bury sites to plague future generations.
The electrical arc is not a “burn” technology outlawed by my own charter initiative when the city tried to build the SANDER plant at Convoy and state Route 52 that would have dumped copious amounts of pollution on my city council district.
The initiative saved the city from making the same mistake as the county did trying to build a burn technology trash disposal plant.
Since we have all these canyons around, the bury technique remained cheaper, so the county plant simply did not have enough customers to make the plant economically viable and ended up costing the county taxpayers a bundle.
The city is not presently evaluating any such technologies as none can prove cheaper than burying our trash in our canyons.
And if the city did adopt such a technology, absent compulsion to use the city technology, it would suffer the same fate as did the county plant.
For the time being, Grealy and the city are doing the best they can with the facts of life and our heaven-sent canyons.
But can’t we do better than waste valuable resources and ruin limited land space for the next thousand years?
Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to email@example.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.