The Santa Monica council has decided to keep processing recyclables outside the city and offer a mobile buyback program rather than build new processing and buyback facilities at City Yards, which is undergoing a four-year modernization project.

Council members said City Yards lacked the space for either facility and added that they would likely create adverse environmental and noise impacts for nearby residents and businesses. The council’s decision aligned with the recommendation of city staff, who wrote in a report that building an MRF would lock the city into a recycling plan that would make it difficult to respond to changes in environmental regulations and recycling technologies.

“Economies of scale can also be an issue — the MRF would incur high operating costs, have insufficient space and limited production capacity,” staff wrote.

Transporting recyclables to an off-site facility would cost between $500,000 and $750,000 annually, staff said at Tuesday’s meeting. The Allan Company’s contract to process and transfer materials would have cost $1 million.

Staff recommended partnering with nearby cities like West Hollywood to operate a recycling truck that would redeem CRV bottles and cans. The truck would come to Santa Monica one to three days of the week and the city would also host pop-up recycling events every three months at public sites like Santa Monica College.

The council also voted to amp up education and outreach efforts around the city’s zero waste by 2030 goal — although it may no longer be called “zero waste.” Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day said he feels the term creates a false sense of achievement, given the collapse of the global recycling industry and the fact that 30% of the materials put in the city’s recycling bins are actually trash, according to a June staff report.

“There’s a culture of lies around the way we’re talking about this stuff,” O’Day said. “I think we need to find a way to communicate more realistically about this work that we do.”

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