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[whitespace] City reaches garbage goal--landfill intake halved

Sunnyvale--Trash never dies, it just gets sorted better.

For the second straight year, the Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer Station -- or SMaRT Station as its known -- has reached the state mandated goal of reducing waste by 50 percent before the year 2000.

In fact, the city-owned SMaRT station which also services Palo Alto and Mountain View, has exceeded its goal, diverting 52 percent of the more than 1,100 tons of garbage the station receives each day.

In accordance with America Recycles Day last Saturday, the three cities were recognized by the California Integrated Waste Management Board for being well ahead of schedule.

"We'd like people to keep up the effort so we can have a cushion," said Mark Bowers, the city's solid waste program manager. "It's nice to be a little ahead."

Residents who participate in curbside recycling and yard waste collection programs, make up 8 percent of the city's waste reduction.

Even though residents and business have all pitched in to save more and use less in the past decade, Bowers still pointed to mounds of landfill that have gone untouched for more than 30 years.

"The best thing we can do is manage it and keep the decomposition bi-products from getting out into the environment," Bowers said of trash. "But you can't get rid of it."

At the SMaRT station, miles of conveyor belt, a few large sifters, and at least one hundred hands help to pick through the trash to save what can be recycled.

"Anything that anyone will throw into the trash, we will see in here," said Ken Toy, solid waste contract administrator. "For most people garbage is out of sight out of mind. But we do see it out here, we do go through it."

Five days a week, workers at the Sunnyvale site stand next to vibrating vender belts and help weed out 800 tons of waste that can be recycled. The remaining trash is condensed into 24 ton loaves of garbage, loaded onto trucks, and whisked away to landfills in South San Jose. Thirty-seven times a day, a truck carrying the 24 ton loaf of trash makes the journey.

Toy said not everyday is business as usual along the garbage line. Sometimes workers find unusual items. "Someone once threw away a 1945 World War II rocket propelled gun," Toy said. Toy is also the owner of a rare Interstate 78 sign in his office, that from a small Interstate back East. Bowers added that it was not uncommon to find ammunition or guns while sifting through the debris. "We don't know if it is potentially crime evidence," Bowers said of the dilemma a weapon can create.

Save guns and ammunition, the city's population threw away a lot of trash last year.

Sunnyvale residents and business generated 233,795 tons of waste in 1997 -- 121,715 of which were diverted from the landfill and reused.

Toy said in 1989 state officials used a formula to determine how much trash, coupled with the probable population growth, would be created by each city. In 1990, the city only diverted 18 percent of its trash. With the passage of AB 939, which eventually evolved into The Environmental Waste Reduction Act, a state governed mandate forced cities to halve their waste intake.

In Sunnyvale, the greatest contributors to aid the waste reduction effort has been from commercial users. But, as Bowers noted, they are also the biggest creators of garbage. Two thirds of all waste in the city is commercial waste, most of which is paper products, cardboard and pallets.

"It makes not only good business sense to have a good recycling program," Bowers said, "but it also makes good citizens."
Justin Berton

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Web extra to the November 19-24, 1998 issue of Metro.

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