SAN DIEGO - Fashion Valley Mall wasn’t recycling food court garbage, witnesses said, even though there are separate containers for garbage and recycled material.
So Team 10 used a GPS device to find out where recyclables went. It turns out all the garbage from Fashion Valley’s food court ended up in the same landfill.
Dr. Farhoud Rastegar was eating lunch with his wife at the food court in the largest shopping mall in San Diego – described by some people as one of America's greenest cities.
"That's when I noticed something was wrong," said Rastegar.
Rastegar said he saw the janitor emptying the trash cans and putting the garbage and recyclables in the same cart.
"I approached him and I asked what happened that he would mix up the recyclables and the trash," Dr. Rastegar said.
Rastegar asked if the recyclables would be put in a separate dumpster after they were collected.
"He said no, there would be just one drop of all that trash into the trash bin," Rastegar said.
He told Team 10 he called management and complained but nothing changed.
"We cannot pretend we are recycling," he said.
Team 10 sat in the food court and watched as a worker took the bag from the garbage side of the trash bins, and a bag from the recycle side of the bins, and threw the bags in the same container.
Team 10 then asked an employee if the trash and recycled material go in the same dumpster and the employee said yes.
Asked if the food court recycles, the worker said no.
Team 10 wanted to see where the recycled material was sent and if it was separated at a later time.
We bought a battery powered GPS and dropped it into the recycle side of the bin in the food court.
The device works by sending you its location through a text message.
At first the device was sending messages of its location at Fashion Valley Mall – then the messages stopped.
Through the GPS, Team 10 learned all of the garbage and recycled material from the food court goes into the same compactor.
The waste management company told Team 10 the food court compactor can hold nine tons of waste over a two-day period.
Once the waste is smashed and compacted, it's sent to the city landfill.
Team 10 went to the Landfill and asked an employee if Fashion Valley Mall deposits its waste there.
"Yeah, but it comes in big compactors," said the landfill worker.
Team 10 asked what they do with the waste.
"We push it and bury it," said the worker.
Team 10 asked if they separate the recycled material from the trash once it's compacted.
"Oh no, no, no. This isn't a transfer station -- this is a landfill. They are supposed to recycle there," the worker said.
Team 10 told the worker we were looking for something we dropped in the recycle bin in the mall food court.
"Food court? Gone, buried, smashed," the worker said.
Businesses must recycle under a San Diego ordinance.
A Fashion Valley spokesperson said the mall does meet the City of San Diego's requirements for recycling.
They would not do an on-camera interview, but listed all the ways they put sustainable practices into their day-to-day operations.
They gave Team 10 this initial statement:
Fashion Valley believes in the positive economic impact and social benefits of reducing energy consumption by incorporating sustainable practices into our day-to-day operations. Key components of our approach include initiatives to measure and reduce overall energy consumption, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Fashion Valley meets the City of San Diego's requirements for recycling and works to continually increase our recycling conversion rate by recycling refuse from the common areas throughout the center, recycling tenant cardboard and plastics and recycling grease in the Food Court. In addition, the recent redevelopment of Fashion Valley included the recycling of demolition materials, and the addition of LED lighting and a living wall. Fashion Valley debuted the first of its kind public electric vehicle fast-charging Freedom Station in the country to support all EV models, which was installed last fall, further demonstrating Fashion Valley's commitment to delivering a more sustainable shopping experience that is also convenient for our customers.
Fashion's Valley Mall's first statement did not address the question of whether they recycle the waste from the food court.
Shoppers told Team 10 separating garbage from the recyclables only to send it to the same compactor and landfill bothered them the most.
"If a business is lying and they aren't sticking to what they are saying to the public then that's a big issue," said shopper Leslie Reyes.
Team 10 pressed Fashion Valley for additional information on their recycling policies, specifically in the food court. Then a spokesperson sent us an updated statement.
Fashion Valley is committed to incorporating sustainable practices into our daily operations. While we currently meet San Diego's recycling requirements, we recognize the opportunity to further improve the recycling conversion rate at our food court. We are looking to add signage to help shoppers correctly separate trash and recyclables, and reviewing our internal disposal processes to ensure trash and recyclables reach the appropriate compactors.
Team 10 will continue to check on this issue to see if Fashion Valley’s food court starts recycling.
The city also sent us a list of business and event locations that were fined after being found in violation of the city's recycling ordinance. Here's a look at the offenders on a map: