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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Possible LA Garbage Monopoly System

Labor and environmental groups have waged a war against waste haulers to control how trash is picked up and disposed of from Los Angeles.

A war over trash is set to break out at Los Angeles City Hall. Labor and environmental groups have squared off against waste haulers and business interests to determine how trash is picked up from thousands of the city's businesses.

The Kotanjian family has been picking up LA’s trash for over 100 years.

“As a kid growing up in the late 70s my grandfather would pick us up, my brother and I, from our Armenian school and he would pick us up in the truck and we would go out to the landfill,” said Matthew Kotanjian.

AAA Rubbish is a family business with father, Greg, uncle, Mark and sons Phillip, Matthew and Donny in charge of the business.

“We're fifth generation haulers and fifth generation Angelenos,” said Kotanjian. “And now we feel we're going to be kicked out, thrown out on the street.”

The plan city council is set to review in November would set up a new, exclusive system where trash haulers would compete to control one of 11 areas of the city.

“We may not be competitive against the wall street waste companies,” said Kotanjian.

Although the family business has survived the recession and competition from giant, national waste companies, they fear that if this monopoly system is pushed through the family’s 100-year-old business will be wiped away.

“We never thought in all our years in business that the city of LA would be our biggest competitor,” said Kotanjian.

The plan has the support of a powerful group of labor and environmental organizations. One of their major goals is to meet Los Angeles’s zero waste goal.

“It will allow us to meet our significant environmental goals, including increased diversion from landfills and increased recycling,” said Adrian Martinez, an attorney for the National Resource Defense Council.

AAA Rubbish produces zero waste with its trucks trasferring their waste to a transfer facility where it's separated. Some of it is recycled and the remaining waste goes into an incinerator where energy is created for use instead of fossil fuels.

However, in our new age of heightened environmental interests, not everyone has agreed that AAA’s disposal plan is the best approach.

“What we're trying to do with pushing for this plan is develop the waste plan for the next 50 years, not just create some ‘Band-Aid’ solution,” said Martinez.

Supporters of the new plan said waster haulers from competing companies crowd city streets, and sometimes act out of control, resulting in their disposal efforts not contributing to a cleaner Los Angeles environment.

“The right thing is to adopt an exclusive franchise approach with strong environmental standards and hold these waste companies accountable for their actions,” said Martinez.

Critics suggest that with the new exclusive system the quality of service will go down and prices for those services will go up.

Residents of the massive 18-tower Park La Brea apartment complex fear that with a large waste company, they will lose the daily, personalized service they have recieved from A&B Disposal– another small family business.

“Many cities have moved to this approach because it makes sense,” said Martinez.

Southern California cities have been embroiled in trash contracting wars before, and new environmental priorities have collided with traditional business interests.

“We love what we do, we want to be here for many, many years to come,” said Kotanjian.

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