Baykeeper Update

GreenWaste in San Jose Agrees to Clean Up Its Bay Pollution

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Steelhead trout and Chinook salmon will have a better chance of survival in San Jose’s Coyote Creek and in San Francisco Bay, thanks to Baykeeper’s successful legal action against GreenWaste Recovery, Inc.

GreenWaste, a San Jose recycling facility, has polluted Coyote Creek, which flows to the Bay, with contaminants that include heavy metals that are toxic to fish. GreenWaste recently signed a legally-binding agreement with Baykeeper requiring the company to stop the pollution.

The privately owned and locally operated recycling company collects and processes residential and commercial trash, yard trimmings, curbside recyclables, food waste, and construction and demolition debris from San Jose, Santa Cruz County, several Peninsula cities, and portions of Santa Clara County. Baykeeper sued GreenWaste after discovering that storm water running off the site and into the creek was contaminated with illegal levels of aluminum, iron, copper, lead, zinc, and oil.

Baykeeper is particularly concerned about pollution from GreenWaste because Coyote Creek provides habitat for ten native fish species, including steelhead trout and Chinook salmon. The creek is overburdened by toxic runoff from multiple industrial sites in the highly urbanized Santa Clara Valley Basin watershed.

Runoff pollution from GreenWaste stemmed from several causes, including storage of dirty equipment and vehicles outdoors where they are exposed to rain; truck tires spreading dirt and trash around paved areas; and a broken storm water filtration system.

To address these pollution problems, GreenWaste will:

  • Install new storm drain filters to remove contaminants from storm water that runs into Coyote Creek.
  • Divert runoff from the roof into an infiltration trench, to keep the volume of storm water flowing off the facility from overwhelming the storm drain filters.
  • Secure approval to discharge contaminated water from part of the site into the San Jose city sewer system, where the pollutants will be removed by wastewater treatment.
  • Sweep more often and keep the site cleaner by relocating equipment and vehicles.

For the next three years, GreenWaste will also collect and test samples of its storm water runoff. Baykeeper will check these pollution samples and work with GreenWaste to ensure that the new controls stop the facility’s illegal pollution of Coyote Creek and the Bay.

GreenWaste’s cleanup agreement came within a month of another San Jose recycling company, GreenTeam, responding to a Baykeeper lawsuit by agreeing to clean up its runoff pollution of San Francisco Bay. Recycling facilities provide a valuable environmental service by diverting solid waste from landfills, but if they operate in a way that causes water pollution (or other types of pollution), it can undermine the value of what they do.

As partial mitigation for damage caused by its past pollution, GreenWaste is contributing funds to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, a nonprofit organization that funds environmental restoration projects in the Bay Area.

This victory is the latest success in Baykeeper’s Bay-Safe Industry campaign. The campaign targets widespread, illegal runoff that flows into San Francisco Bay from most of the Bay Area’s 1,300 industrial facilities. In addition to legal action against GreenWaste and other facilities found to be significantly polluting the Bay, the campaign includes outreach and education to industrial facilities, and advocacy to strengthen regulatory controls on industrial storm water.

Photo by Betty Lo and Ken Colson