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For many years the City of Oxnard contracted its recycling services to a private company which used low-road labor and environmental practices to make millions in profits from ratepayers. Thanks to city council leadership and CAUSE’s research and advocacy, we are seeing a fundamental shift in Oxnard’s recycling system as the Del Norte Materials Recycling Facility has been changed to public operation by the city.
The CAUSE research team met with key stakeholders, elected officials and public agencies, toured the facilities and interviewed workers, from the lowest ranked sorters to middle management. We compared examples from other cities and analyzed the city of Oxnard’s business plan. Our youth leaders helped with research and made public comment at City Council meetings. CAUSE staff and leaders advocated for public operation of the facility so the revenues generated from Oxnard’s recycling could be used to benefit workers, ratepayers and the environment rather than corporate profits. City council voted in September to end its multimillion dollar contract with a private corporation and publicly run its own recycling system, agreeing to adopt a Zero Waste Plan and focus on retaining current workers.
The transition has been a major success. Diversion of tons of waste from the landfill to recycling has exponentially increased, resulting in less payments from the city to landfill operators, less emissions from trucks and waste entering Ventura County landfills, and increased revenue from the sale of recyclable materials. The city has launched a pilot project to explore food scrap recycling, which currently makes up the largest portion of potentially recyclable waste, and is making plans to increase participation in both residential and commercial recycling. The city has also purchased new efficient equipment to replace the aging sorting machines and vehicles at the facility and has dramatically improved maintenance of existing equipment, ending the chronic work-stoppages that once plagued the recycling center due to equipment breakdowns. On the horizon is the possibility of building a state-of-the-art anaerobic digestor, which will allow organic material to be turned into energy and then recycled for agricultural purposes in a highly efficient process to minimize waste being sent to the landfill.
Meanwhile, conditions for Oxnard’s recycling workers have dramatically improved. Workers at the Del Norte facility have typically been former farmworkers who have lived in Oxnard for many years and in the transition they faced the prospect of losing their jobs. CAUSE strongly advocated for the city to retain the existing workers, both to ensure a smooth and quick transition to public operation, and to allow these working-class immigrant families to benefit from the improved labor conditions. All of the workers were allowed to stay in their current positions, and received wage increases and significant improvements to health and retirement benefits as full city employees with a union contract. Morale is high and workers are being trained in improved safety standards and management practices and are being made part of the city’s Zero Waste Plan goals.
The successful transition of the Del Norte facility to public operation shows that taking the high road works. Investing in people and the dignity of workers pays dividends in a productive and skilled workforce, while using resources to raise recycling rates and convert to more efficient processes means less costly landfill waste and more revenue from recycled goods. With income from Del Norte staying in the community instead of being sent to faraway shareholders of a private corporation, the city is saving ratepayer money while improving conditions for local workers and protecting our environment.