Commercial Recycling – Snapshot of Local Agency Programs and Policies 2009

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About the Snapshot

In Spring 2009, the Institute for Local Government’s California Climate Action Network surveyed cities and counties to gather information about activities, policies and programs in five areas related to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions: commercial recycling, green building, land use and community design, efficient transportation, and civic engagement.

Case stories were prepared for ten communities to provide more detailed background information. While the information gathered does not reflect all of the commercial recycling programs in California communities, it does provide a snap shot of trends, opportunities, constraints and lessons learned.

This project was conducted in partnership with the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

Snapshot Summary

  • Programs to encourage or mandate commercial recycling are increasing in California cities and counties.
  • Consistent with the adage that one size does not fit all, the types of programs to encourage or require commercial recycling vary considerably among communities and are structured to reflect individual community characteristics.
  • Tiered rate structures that make recycling more cost effective are prominent motivating factors for businesses to recycle, regardless of whether commercial recycling is mandatory or not.
  • Education and technical assistance essential to promoting compliance by businesses.
  • Enforcement of mandatory commercial recycling programs vary among communities, with emphasis generally placed on education and technical assistance rather than penalties.

Highlights of Local Agency Commercial Recycling Activities

  • While some agencies require all businesses to recycle, some agencies provide limited exemptions based upon size facility or quantity of waste/recyclables generated. Similarly, some agencies include restaurants and multi-family complexes in the requirements and some do not.
  • Tiered rate structures serve as an incentive to businesses to recycle, regardless of whether the agency has a mandatory commercial recycling program.
  • In some communities, co-mingled trash and recyclables are sent to a material recovery facility (often referred to as a dirty MRF), thus resulting in de-facto mandatory commercial recycling for all generators. In communities with dirty MRFs, offering businesses free bins to separate cardboard and white paper from the other co-mingled waste can reduce contamination of recyclable materials separated at the MRF.
  • For those communities with older business areas, such as historic districts or redevelopment areas, providing communal collection/storage bins where businesses can place recyclables makes recycling feasible for businesses that otherwise could not recycle due to space limitations.
  • In some communities, the hauler is responsible for ensuring compliance, while in other communities, the local agency is responsible for ensuring compliance.
  • Both agencies and haulers provide outreach and education of community businesses, including waste audits and personal contact, to promote increased commercial recycling.
  • Determining compliance rates is difficult, especially in large communities with many businesses.
  • Because enforcement of mandatory recycling requirements is costly, many agencies emphasize education and technical assistance for the largest generators and those businesses that request assistance, rather than fines or other penalties.

Opportunities, Constraints and Lessons Learned

  • Whether an agency has a mandatory commercial recycling is not related to the type solid waste regulatory structure (i.e., exclusive or non-exclusive franchise or open competition/permit or license).
  • Just having a mandatory commercial recycling ordinance alone won’t guarantee commercial recycling. It must be complemented by a robust education and technical assistance program for the businesses.
  • Enforcement is difficult and expensive – and, agencies are reluctant to become the recycling police.
  • It is important to ensure the agency’s mandatory recycling ordinance is harmonized with any existing (or new) franchise agreement or contracts.
  • Working with small businesses and ethnic business owners can help promote success.
  • A tiered rate structure with lower costs for recycling services significantly increases recycling by businesses.
  • When undertaking a recycling program geared toward a large number of businesses, start educating the largest businesses first to capture the maximum amount of recyclables earlier in the program. .
  • It’s tough to increase the rate of commercial recycling when businesses in downtown buildings don’t have convenient access to recycling facilities; innovative solutions can help increase recycling.
  • Providing free bins to encourage source separation of cardboard and paper can increase recycling rates at MRF and reduce costs to generators.
  • Be sure all businesses, and especially new ones, are aware that recycling services are available from haulers.

So, What are Counties and Cities Doing?

Click SNAPSHOT to learn which counties and cities:

  • have a mandatory commercial recycling program
  • have a mandatory commercial recycling program that applies to multi-family buildings and/or restaurant food waste
  • offer one or both of the following: 1) educational outreach to haulers and/or the business community; 2) business audits

Tell Us About Your Agency’s Programs

Would you like your city or county’s commercial recycling program to be added to our list? Let us know what your community is doing to promote commercial recycling to combat climate change by completing our short Climate Leadership Survey on Commercial Recycling.

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