Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that sets an ambitious statewide goal of recycling 75 percent of California’s trash by 2020, and requires schools, stores, offices, government buildings and apartment complexes to develop recycling programs by July 1, 2012.
For a decade, California has had a goal —- and a requirement —- that communities across the state divert half of the solid waste headed for landfills, and find ways to recycle or reuse the materials.
The new law raises the bar, even though it doesn’t make the new 75 percent target a requirement.
But the law does require, for the first time, that every complex with at least five apartments offer recycling to tenants, state officials said. And it does mandate that every business that throws away at least 4 cubic yards of trash a week —- the amount that fits in the standard-size Dumpster —- implement recycling plans.
Brown also signed companion legislation, Assembly Bill 1149, which creates incentives for establishing and expanding plastic processing facilities in the state. Most of the plastic bottle containers collected in California today are shipped to Asia for processing, and state officials say they want to reverse that trend and create jobs for Californians.
Brown signed the plastic bill and the primary piece of recycling legislation, Assembly Bill 341, sponsored by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-North Coast, on Thursday.
Not everyone a fan
When Chesbro’s bill came up for consideration in the state Capitol, it was opposed by some local lawmakers, including Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad.
“AB 341 is another example of the heavy hand of government creating arbitrary and unrealistic mandates,” Garrick wrote in an email Friday.
Mark Murray, executive director for Californians Against Waste, the statewide environmental group based in Sacramento that proposed the legislation, maintained that the new mandates are needed.
He noted that recycling has been a major focus since passage of the state’s landmark mandatory recycling law in 1989. And yet, he said, many businesses are dragging their feet at doing their part to recycle and extend the life of California’s landfills.
“We’re now at the position where we have to mandate because some commercial establishments just haven’t gotten the message,” Murray said in a telephone interview Friday.
He said apartment managers in particular have been slow to get on board.
“This is not something that (most) apartment complexes have voluntarily done on their own,” he said.
But Alan Pentico, spokesman for the San Diego County Apartment Association, which represents 2,000 rental properties with a total of 165,000 housing units, said providing recycling bins for tenants is a significant challenge.
“We already have a crunch for parking spaces,” Pentico said. “And about the only way you can get recycling bins in is to take out parking spaces.”
That’s problematic, he said, because most San Diego County complexes are two to four decades old, and were built when tenants parked an average of one car for each apartment. Now apartment families typically have a couple of cars, and have trouble finding parking as it is.
“We’re not Orange County, where everything is brand-new,” Pentico said.
Murray countered that for most apartment complexes, complying with the mandate simply will mean swapping out a trash container for a recycling container.
Pentico said for many complexes it won’t be that simple, depending on the configuration of a particular property.
In any event, Howard Levenson, deputy director of the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery, also known as CalRecycle, said the requirements to offer recycling programs will extend to an estimated 320,000 of California’s 1.5 million businesses and public institutions.
Levenson said CalRecycle is preparing to start writing rules next month to clarify how the law will be enforced. He said those guidelines probably will be unveiled by February.
Levenson said the state will give businesses time to phase in recycling programs.
“We don’t expect everyone to have a full-fledged program covering and doing everything on July 1,” he said.
He said the state will give businesses flexibility in determining the types of recycling strategies that will work best for them.
“We’re not going to specify how business does it,” Levenson said.
Still, Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, who voted against the measure, said the new mandate doesn’t appear to be flexible.
“I support our efforts to improve recycling in California,” Jeffries wrote in an email. “But mandates from Sacramento with a one-size-fits-all approach is just not practical in a state as big and diverse as ours.”
Nor, Garrick said, is the new 75 percent statewide goal practical.
Garrick noted that some North San Diego County and Southwest Riverside County communities have struggled to meet the existing 50 percent mandate.
“We should be finding ways to help citizens, businesses and local governments meet existing expectations,” he said.
Fast-growing communities in particular struggled to recycle half their waste during the past decade’s housing boom, largely because of construction waste.
But thanks in part to the recession, Levenson said, California today enjoys a statewide recycling rate of 65 percent.
Given the current rate, Levenson said he believes that 75 percent is a realistic target.
And even when the economy roars back to life, he said, California should maintain a higher rate because methods have been developed for recycling and reusing discarded construction materials.
Agreeing, Murray said California disposes of 30 million tons of waste annually, and half of that is recyclable material.
Murray said California has made big strides since adopting the 1989 law. He said about 70 percent of the state’s cardboard waste is diverted from landfills now, as is 60 percent of newspapers.
Alicia McGee, a spokeswoman for CalRecycle, said 82 percent of beverage containers are recycled.
But for all the progress, Jane Laskin, spokeswoman for Temecula Recycling, which processes not only the traditional bottles and cans but also electronic waste, said California can and must do better.
“I really believe that if we don’t teach our kids how to do it, and do it correctly, and to recycle all the time … the environment will be toast,” Laskin said.