California made headlines in 1989 when it passed a law mandating 50 percent recycling of its waste stream by 2000. Now that the Golden State has exceeded that ambitious goal, achieving a recycling rate of 58 percent, the state government is setting its sights on a loftier target.
This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that requires the state to divert 75 percent of its waste from landfills by 2020 – through waste reduction, recycling or composting. Assembly Bill 341 also compels businesses and apartment buildings with five or more units to establish recycling programs by July 1, 2012.
The bill’s author, Assembly member Wes Chesbro (D-North Coast), said that California’s initial recycling requirement helped create 125,000 new jobs over the past two decades and develop an industry that generates $4 billion in annual salaries.
“AB 341 expands on the law passed 21 years ago that made California the nation’s leader in recycling,” Chesbro said in a statement. “Not only do we create more green jobs, we protect the environment and conserve energy by reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.”
According to the legislation, California still sends more than 40 million tons of trash to the landfill each year, despite the state’s 58 percent recycling rate.
Cities and counties have made significant progress reducing waste from single-family households, which make up 28 percent of the state’s waste stream, but they’ve faced challenges encouraging businesses and apartments to recycle, the bill states. Trash from businesses makes up 64 percent of the state’s landfill disposal, while multifamily housing’s waste accounts for 8 percent.
“Assembly member Chesbro’s AB 341 targets the 15 million tons of recyclables that the commercial sector and apartments still send to landfills every year,” said Mark Murray, executive director of advocacy group Californians Against Waste. “By collecting, processing and manufacturing these materials into new products, AB 341 has the potential to create a net total of nearly 60,000 jobs.”
Governor Brown also approved a measure to provide $10-20 billion in annual incentives to California processors and manufacturers of recycled plastic – to encourage the domestic recycling of plastic, rather than shipping the material overseas for processing.
The state collects about 500 million pounds of plastic bottles under its beverage container deposit legislation, but more than 80 percent of these containers are shipped to other countries for processing and recycling into new products, according to Californians Against Waste.
“When we ship used soda and water bottles to China, we are exporting thousands of jobs overseas that could just as readily exist in California if the appropriate investments were set up to support it,” said Assembly member Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), who sponsored the legislation.
But California isn’t the only state with a 75 percent recycling goal: In 2008, Florida passed similar legislation, requiring the state divert 75 percent of its waste stream by 2020.