EDCO Turns Trash into Profit
by Cynthia Robertson

It used to be so natural to toss that empty plastic water bottle or can of Pepsi into the trash, where it all eventually ends up in the Miramar landfill. However, beginning this year, a new San Diego ordinance has required that all households become true-blue recyclers. The instantly recognizable blue barrels of EDCO are the receptacles for people’s trash turned into profit, both for the company itself and for the planet.

EDCO Recycling in Lemon Grove is named for its owner Ed Burr, who founded the company in 1967. The company serves numerous communities in Southern California, specializing in integrated, user-friendly waste removal and recycling programs.

Recently, a group of nearly 80 people from the Lemon Grove Historical Society and others responding to an ad in the Reader listened to EDCO’s president Steve South. Under a cloudy sky and threat of rain, the tour attendees donned bright orange safety vests and masks to cover the nose and mouth.

“Normally, we get five to ten people on these tours, so I’m impressed with the numbers today,” said South.

The tour group listened attentively as South gave an intriguing lesson on the business of recycling. “As you can imagine, this is hard work for the people who sort through the trash, bundle it up and ship it out,” he said.

The main building of EDCO receives the plastic, glass and cardboard from homes and offices and piled into mini-mountains. “The ordinary person would look at this mess and call it nothing but trash. But if it’s recyclable it’s not trash,” said South.

“One of the busiest times of years is right during any holidays, because we get all kinds of left-over items, such as mixed wrapping paper,” said South.

Inside the building, conveyor belts moved the trash along, while employees sorted through and tossed the non-recyclables. The employees wore masks to protect against dust and ear plugs to guard against the noise of trash being pushed along the conveyor belts.

Long gone are the days when people used to simply burn or bury their garbage. “When we experienced an explosion of products in boxes and bottles on the market, that was when the need for recycling became more evident,” explained South.

The recyclable products include plastic, glass, metal, cardboard, and paper. “Mixed paper is made into toilet paper,” said South, and some people groaned, laughing.

All glass is used and usually separated by clear, brown and green. But even the mixed glass is used to make Gallo wine bottles.

EDCO cannot recycle Styrofoam or any glass and plastic items not labeled CA Redemption Value or CA Cash Refund.

Nearly all paper is recyclable, including shredded office paper.

Perhaps surprisingly, plastic bags are one of the most contributed yet useless items for EDCO. “Recycling profit goes by weight and since you’d have to stuff the entire building with plastic bags in order to get the weight needed, we really can’t do anything with them,” he said.

Grocery stores will often accept the bags and send them back to the factories that produced the bags.

Nearly 92% of the refuse that gets processed at EDCO will be sold as a re-marketable product. “A lot of the boats that come into Long Beach Harbor are reloaded with raw paper and steel and go to Asia within 72 hours after being loaded. Forty to fifty containers a day are shipped right out of San Diego,” said South.

He admitted that it was difficult to imagine the relatively small EDCO was part of an international shipping cycle. “It’s exciting because recycling is saving space in our local landfills. By the year 2013 the Miramar landfill is expected to reach capacity, and then the landfills requires 30 years of post-closure.

“What that means is the trash has to move further and further away from the coast. But why should anyone care? Because it uses more fuel to move the trucks and rail cars, and that means more stress on our infrastructure with the trash going all the way into Arizona,” explained South.

Because this nation is blessed with an abundance of natural resources such as trees, it is one of the leading exports of recycled paper, as well as steel.

Even more tonnage is added to EDCO by debris from last fall’s wildfires. “We’re able to recover 60 to 70% of that debris, which is concrete, wood, steel and asphalt. We screen and clean the dirt and use it in landfill,” said South, leading the tour group over to the SANDCO building, named after Sandy Burr. The building is also called the Construction/Demolition Earth Plant.

A constant mist of water sprays over the mountains of debris, both helping to keep the dust down and to help manage the debris. Sixty to eight percent of the material is recovered. Drywall debris can be used for gypsum for faming; concrete can become road-base, and wood can become roadside cover

However, wood and brush have negative value, meaning that EDCO has to pay someone else to take it away. “We do it because it’s all eventually recyclable, even though we may have to pick up the cost,” said South.

EDCO does stay true to its motto “We’ll take care of it,” but it certainly helps that the citizens of San Diego want to take part as well. People are participating more nowadays. Even five years ago, about half the amount of recycling products came in as what EDCO receives now.

“Trash is simple but personal. Normally, if someone in your home tells you to do something, you’re not willing, but people are more willing now to recycle since they see how important it is,” said South.

For more information about recycling and EDCO, go to

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