(This article was originally published on May 21, 2014)
“Yes we did make a mistake,” Lawrence Garcia, the city of Santa Fe’s environmental services director said.
He was stating the obvious.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” newly-elected Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said. “That led to anger and certainly led to a call for an investigation.”
Gonzales was reacting to an investigation by KRQE News 13.
“We will learn from the mistake and we will not have it happen again,” Garcia said.
Santa Fe is known not only for its unique blend of art, culture and charm, but also as one of the most eco-friendly communities in America. Think “Santa Fe,” and you think “green.” For example: recycling.
“We are trying to be stewards of the environment,” Garcia said. “Our goal is to divert recyclable materials out of the landfill.”
Residents set out recycling in 14-gallon containers. The boxes are collected curbside and delivered to a warehouse for processing. That’s where plastic, tin cans, aluminum, paper and glass are sorted, bundled and then sold to be turned into a new product.
Santa Fe recycles 20 tons of trash every day. Compare that to 150 tons of garbage dumped in the landfill daily.
Some people are skeptical about recycling. They think the city takes carefully sorted newspapers and plastic and then secretly dumps it in the landfill along with the dirty diapers and banana peels. So the success of any community recycling program is dependent on one very simple rule: garbage goes to the landfill, recycling goes to the recycling center.
KRQE News 13 asked Garcia whether the city’s recycle trucks ever go to the landfill.
“Recycle trucks do not go to the landfill,” he said. “The city does not dump recyclable materials. We do not throw recyclable materials away.”
It would be unthinkable for anyone to intentionally discard recycling material in the garbage dump. But that’s exactly what News 13’s investigation found.
On January 6, at 2:40 in the afternoon, truck No. 587 delivered its load to Santa Fe’s Caja Del Rio landfill. The cargo was listed as residential waste, but that was a deception.
In reality, No 587 only carries recycling material and has no business at the landfill.
But nobody at the city seemed to notice when almost three tons of recyclables were secretly thrown away. Our investigation found it happened again on March 13. Although the trash was shown as residential waste, the city quietly tossed out a ton and a half of recyclables.
“If there was a load that went to the landfill, there had to be reasoning behind it,” Garcia said. “People are human and some people will make a mistake. I believe it was a huge mistake.”
The city cannot explain why the recyclables on January 6 were thrown away, or who authorized it.
According to city officials, on March 13, a solid waste supervisor directed the driver of truck No. 587 to dump all its recycling material in the landfill because, he claims, the load was contaminated with glass.
“I guarantee you that if i would have known about it, it still would not have gone to the landfill,” Garcia said.
Mayor Gonzales added: “It never crossed my mind that there would be a breakdown big enough where you would have a large truck that has writing on it that says recycling on the side of it allowed to go into the landfill.”
“I was disappointed, angry, really wanting to get to the bottom of why there was a breakdown of our system that allowable for recyclable materials to reach the landfill,” Gonzales said. “So there is a period of time that this behavior and this practice was going on that we certainly did not know was happening here at the administration, and furthermore, that there’s material that’s sitting in our landfill that could have been recycled.”
The mayor said there’s now an internal investigation under way.
“We’re trying to identify if discipline is going to be required, and I’m sure it most certainly will, and of course we have to develop — and we are — policies to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Gonzales said.
Patrick Peck is president of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition.
“We don’t condone dumping recyclable materials in the landfill,” Peck said.
He gave the following as a message to Santa Feans who want to recycle:
“You know what? Have faith. I think the people in Santa Fe are doing the correct thing, They’ve acknowledged it, they are working diligently to correct the problem, so for the citizens of Santa Fe: keep recycling.”
This is not the first time a community has been caught dumping recyclables. A 2007 News 13 investigation found the city of Albuquerque tossing truck loads of recycling in the city landfill.