The solid waste category addresses Metro's generation and diversion of solid waste for both daily operations and capital construction projects. To reduce the impact of our waste, we aim to decrease the amount of waste we generate and divert waste from landfills. In alignment with the City of Los Angeles (LA) and LA County Integrated Waste Management Hierarchy, waste reduction and sustainable procurement are the most important first steps toward meeting our 2030 targets.
Building on waste characterization studies and our growing Sustainable Acquisition Program, we are changing existing behavioral and purchasing practices to minimize the upstream and downstream impacts of procured material. We are also partnering internally and regionally to identify creative material reuse and diversion strategies. To address construction waste, we are partnering with Metro's contractors to develop waste management strategies that focus on material reuse and landfill diversion.
Moving Beyond Recycling to Upcycling
In recent years, Metro has found ways to upcycle used material into something new, taking a step beyond traditional recycling. Upcycling extends a material’s lifecycle, reduces waste generation and decreases the demand for new raw materials.
Metro’s Banners-to-Bags Program repurposes high-quality vinyl signage from Metro projects when no longer needed, transforming each banner into tote bags for distribution as promotional items. As of 2020, more than 10,000 bags have been produced.
In 2019 and 2020, Metro partnered with the TAP Department to create upcycled swag for some of our discontinued transit tokens. The tokens were made into badge holders, lapel pins, zipper pulls on appreciation pouches for our operators and are now being made into cufflinks and other items for sale through the Metro Shop.
Collectively, these upcycling initiatives have prevented over 2.5 tons of non-recyclable waste from being disposed in a landfill, while creating new and unique products.
To look for more ways to expand opportunities, Metro hosted an Upcycling Web Forum in 2020 to engage local manufacturing and design innovators in helping us identify additional materials in our waste stream that can be repurposed or upcycled. The informational webinar discussed Metro’s waste streams transparently, including some of Metro’s hardest-to-recycle waste. The event provided information to help small businesses become a Metro vendor, ensuring opportunity was available to businesses of any size.
The forum was followed by a request for innovative upcycling ideas for high-volume materials in Metro’s waste stream, which will be evaluated for implementation in 2021.
This effort was designed to educate staff across Metro and to authentically engage the local community in innovating solutions to our waste challenges through creative repurposing of materials. Metro received submittals from individual innovators, non-profit organizations and corporations with creative and innovative ideas that support a circular economy, while addressing some of the waste issues Metro deals with daily.
Planning for a Zero Waste Future
As one of the largest transportation agencies in the United States, Metro acquires, moves, uses and disposes of thousands of tons of material each year. We continue to take proactive steps to prevent and reduce waste generation, while simultaneously diverting waste from landfill. However, there remains significant opportunity to improve our solid waste management systems to advance a sustainable circular economy and zero waste future for the region.
In 2020, Metro began establishing a strategic roadmap for our solid waste program to meet the aggressive waste reduction and diversion goals outlined in Moving Beyond Sustainability (MBS). This Solid Waste Management Plan identifies how Metro will continue reducing waste disposal, diverting waste from landfill and reducing associated regional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, all while the system continues to expand.
We are prioritizing upstream solutions to prevent waste generation followed by reuse, recycling, conversion and finally landfill disposal.
The Solid Waste Management Plan supports the ambitious aims of MBS by establishing five overarching goals:
- Reduce disposal of organic waste in landfills and the associated GHG emissions
- Reduce disposal of all waste in landfills by 24% and achieve a 50% landfill diversion rate by 2030
- Increase the participation in disposal reduction programs through targeted engagement strategies that support an agencywide culture shift
- Increase recycling bin efficiency to improve diversion
- Optimize the solid waste documentation and reporting systems
Achieving our goals and becoming a leader in solid waste management will require more than a focus on operational efficiency. A fundamental shift in our culture and our way of doing business will require innovative policies, programs, staff training, branding and communication strategies. We expect to finalize the plan in 2021 and to initiate implementation by 2022.
Closing the Loop for Clean Soil
With the passage of Measure M, Metro is spending $52 billion to create a better and more connected transit system, improve roadways, drive local economic development and create healthy and safe neighborhoods.
Metro is in a unique position to reduce environmental impacts resulting from excavation and hauling of clean soil during construction. Reusing soil on-site is considered a best practice, but not always practical. Yet, excessive hauling of clean soil can have a significant impact on the environment and local community, in addition to costing Metro.
Since many of Metro’s capital projects excavate and remove a large volume of clean soil, while other projects must import and purchase new clean soil, Metro identified an opportunity in transferring clean soil between nearby projects. In 2020, Metro successfully coordinated a soil swap between the Regional Connector Transit and the Division 20 Portal Widening projects. To date, this swap has allowed for over 11,500 cubic yards of clean soil that would otherwise be disposed to be reused within a mile of its excavation site, eliminating waste, transportation costs and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Given the success of this effort, Metro’s Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Department is exploring ways to create a web-based regional clean soil sharing platform to facilitate the exchange of soil across projects. If developed, the publicly accessible platform would connect those with excess soil with potential recipients, reducing the cost of acquiring new soil, and reducing the costs, traffic, noise and air emissions impacts associated with treating this clean soil as a waste product from construction. As many of Metro’s projects are in traffic impacted communities, this strategy could also provide social and environmental benefits to neighboring communities by reducing truck traffic, noise and pollution emissions.
Cleaning Up the Metro A Line
Metro partners with external public and private stakeholders to improve the overall safety and cleanliness of our buses, rail alignments and facilities across LA County.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, Metro’s Facilities Contracted Maintenance Services Department (FCM) spearheaded a collaborative clean-up effort with crews from the City of LA, LA County and the Union Pacific Railroad along the Union Pacific right-of-way (ROW) adjacent to the Metro A Line (Blue).
The first clean-up took place in fall 2019 along 8.5 miles of the Union Pacific Wilmington alignment between Slauson Ave and the 91-freeway overpass. The cross-agency team collected trash, removed graffiti, disposed of bulky items and cut back overgrown vegetation. These safety and cleanliness improvements received such a positive response that FCM planned additional joint clean-ups along the A Line in November 2019 and April 2021.
Collectively, these clean-up efforts collected and removed more than 280,000 pounds of trash – the equivalent of 16 full garbage trucks – and properly disposed of over 100 gallons of hazardous waste materials, such as paint and motor oil.
These efforts are only one way Metro demonstrates pride in our community, but they also demonstrate our commitment to providing critical services in areas of high need. Together with our partners, Metro is ensuring that our riders and neighboring communities have access to safe, clean and comfortable environments and transportation services.
Understanding This Target
This target measures the total quantity of operational municipal solid waste that is disposed in a landfill as “trash.” In a Business as Usual (BAU) scenario, Metro’s planned system growth is projected to increase solid waste disposal by over 21% by 2030 compared to 2018 levels. To mitigate these impacts, we are committed to implementing additional waste prevention and landfill diversion initiatives using reuse, recycling (e.g., paper, plastics, metals) and organic waste (e.g., food waste, greenwaste) processing strategies that will reduce our landfill disposal by 24% compared to the BAU scenario.
While the primary goal of this target is to reduce the amount of waste disposed in a landfill, it is also designed to reduce the total amount of waste that Metro generates in the first place. Much of Metro’s waste currently disposed in landfills has no alternative destination – it is by its nature not recyclable. Therefore, to reduce disposal, Metro must focus on waste prevention and sustainable procurement strategies to eliminate these materials or identify alternative materials that can be diverted from landfill.
Compared to 2019, operational solid waste disposal declined by 17.7% in 2020, reducing the amount of waste disposed in a landfill by over 1,750 tons. This reduction is significant, as it also means that Metro disposed of 9% less waste than our performance goal for 2020. Some of this decrease can be attributed to reduced operations during the pandemic, but our 2020 performance does indicate that we are on track to meet our 2030 disposal target. Metro will continue identifying new disposal reduction strategies that leverage waste prevention, creative reuse or landfill diversion opportunities in order to meet our 2030 disposal reduction goal.
Understanding This Target
This target measures Metro’s diversion of daily operational waste from landfill on an annual basis. The diversion rate compares the total amount of operational solid waste generated (including prevented waste) each year with the amount of waste that was diverted from landfill through prevention, reuse, recycling and organic waste recycling. As a result, strides made toward reducing our disposal rate in Target 1 will also benefit our diversion rate.
Disposed waste includes all materials that are sent to landfill and are not repurposed. Recycled waste includes all materials and commodity items that are captured and diverted from landfills to be converted into new materials. Organic recycled waste includes plant and animal derived material that are composted or converted to biomass for other uses (e.g., mulch). Prevented waste includes materials that are reused, as well as materials that are otherwise not acquired and disposed due to actions taken during procurement and within operations.
Diversion from landfill increased slightly, from 43.9% in 2019 to 44.6% in 2020, meaning that a smaller proportion of Metro’s waste was sent to landfills compared to last year. Similar to the reduced amount of disposed waste reported under Target 1, operational changes in 2020 also resulted in declines of 33.9% and 23.3% in the quantities of waste sent for recycling and organic processing, respectively. However, considering the substantial decrease in disposed waste and the minimal change (>1%) with respect to prevented waste, our diversion rate for operational waste increased this year – meaning that our diversion rate is still moving in the right direction. The stability of our waste prevention totals indicates that these programs are being institutionalized and are less impacted by operations. As the future of conventional recycling remains uncertain, Metro will continue prioritizing new waste prevention and material reuse strategies through sustainable procurement as a key component of achieving our 2030 diversion target.
Understanding This Target
This target measures the aggregated landfill diversion rate of construction and demolition (C&D) debris generated by Metro’s capital construction projects in a year. The diversion rate compares the total amount of C&D waste generated across all projects for which data is available with the amount of C&D waste that was diverted from landfill through prevention, reuse, recycling and organic waste recycling.
C&D waste is defined to include nonhazardous waste materials such as concrete, metal and wood waste – hazardous waste, excavated soil and land clearing debris are excluded. C&D waste materials generally have the greatest potential to be diverted from landfills. The California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) currently requires a minimum 65% diversion rate for construction and demolition materials, yet we are committed to diverting at least 85% of our construction waste on an annual basis.
In 2020, we achieved an impressive 98.7% diversion rate for C&D waste. This reflects the aggregated diversion rate across the following projects: Purple Line Extension sections 1, 2 and 3, Regional Connector Transit Project, Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project, Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, Metro Center Project and the Rosecrans/Marquardt Grade Separation Project. While we are starting from a strong position, there is still room to improve the tracking and monitoring systems for construction waste to ensure accuracy in reporting and confirm the end use for diverted materials. We are updating our construction waste management specifications and creating a central electronic repository through the Sustainability Plan Program to document and monitor all project C&D waste. Additionally, Metro will continue working with our contractor partners to identify opportunities to reuse materials – either onsite or across projects – before sending them to a facility for processing.