"By what the State pays per pound," Lowe maintains, "it's contributing to a permanent underclass and a black market. The licensed businesses have to pay taxes. The underclass is called 'scavengers' by law, though the department has changed their lingo to call them 'unlicensed collection programs.'
"The restaurants I dealt with don't want to sort the recyclables, and I was losing money in the sorting." So gradually, in the G Street alley, Lowe did less recycling and more trash removal. Instead of preparing Dumpsters for EDCO to empty, he hauled unsorted trash away every morning. Whereas restaurants pay EDCO on average $1000 per month for trash service, Lowe charged anywhere from $375 to $600 per month. "They liked the service," he says. "Not that they all paid on time, though." Nevertheless, Lowe started to make good money. In the early days on G Street, he often only broke even. Toward the end, however, he claims his monthly gross ranged between $7300 and $9300. "But don't forget, I had a lot of expenses too. Rent for the automated equipment, the trailer, and a warehouse where I still did some sorting." (Lowe declined to reveal his average profits.)
Nicholas Johnson, the local manager of USA Hostels, tells me that paying EDCO after Lowe was shut down in June doubled the company's trash-removal costs. And therein, Lowe believes, lies a clue for why LoweCo was put out of business. "The City was getting complaints about me from the franchised trash haulers," he says. But Johnson says he suspects that one of the businesses with back access to the alley may have gotten tired of so much trash arriving there daily from restaurants blocks away.
Several weeks ago I went down to the area, expecting to see at least residues of the pollution described by Gaslamp representatives at the Natural Resources and Culture Committee's June 1 meeting. Things looked clean. Later I unsuccessfully called and visited Jimmy Love's restaurant to ask Jim DiMatteo how he thinks the situation has turned around. But he did not get back to me.
Johnson says most of the restaurants have again signed up with EDCO. But a little of the banned movement of trash from one site to another seems to be continuing. "Somebody is bringing trash across the street and putting it in Dumpsters that are still in the alley," according to Johnson. "Whoever it is has a key to the alley. But I don't know if he's coming from Jimmy Love's or from the brewery next door."
What I noticed during my late-Saturday-morning visit was five or six empty trash barrels and one full blue bin. The blue bin may have belonged to Trattoria La Strada, on the northwest corner of Fifth and G, whose bartender told me his company does recycle. But a spokesman for the Sun Cafe, a block away on Market Street, told me, "We don't recycle here; this is a commercial area."
The restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter may want to get used to recycling again. That mandatory recycling law first proposed by the city attorney's office? The one the Natural Resources and Culture Committee heard on June 1? Well, on August 22, after earlier saying the city attorney was out of order and advocating a voluntary approach, the mayor's office published for public comment the first draft of its own mandatory recycling program. The program will require small businesses to comply with it.
On the other hand, there is an exemption in the mayor's proposal for those who don't have room to collect recyclables. And unless the City allows surrounding restaurants to use the G Street alley, that will give a justification for not recycling.