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Adopting a Mandatory Commercial Recycling Ordinance:
The Experience of the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority and Its Member Jurisdictions

Case Story

The Institute’s sample ordinance, with the flexibility to modify different sections to meet local conditions, was wonderful. It prompted us to explore individual issues so we could focus our thoughts and needs on what would be the best way to meet circumstances in multiple jurisdictions. It was very helpful and made my job easier.” Susan Warner, Diversion Manager, Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority.

Community: Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority. Member agencies: cities of Salinas, Greenfield, Gonzales, Soledad, and King City; eastern portion of unincorporated Monterey County.

Population: 250,000


Anticipating a new state requirement for businesses to recycle and in alignment with its vision to reduce the amount of waste by promoting individual and corporate responsibility, the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority1 prepared a mandatory recycling ordinance for its six member agencies. The ordinance requires all generators of solid waste, including businesses, multi-family complexes, and local government and school facilities to recycle. Greenfield implemented the ordinance in 2009, followed by the Salinas with a January 1, 2011 implementation date.

In Greenfield, since mandatory commercial recycling became effective, businesses increased the tons of recycled materials collected by 152 percent between 2009 and 2010. At the same time businesses reduced the amount of solid waste being disposed, with commensurate cost savings. Commercial recycling is voluntary in the other member jurisdictions until an implementation date for a mandatory ordinance is designated by resolution of the Authority Board or until California’s proposed statewide commercial recycling regulations are adopted.

Program Highlights

  • The Authority’s Board of Directors adopted the mandatory recycling ordinance in January 2010. It applies to each of its member agencies. The ordinance becomes effective by resolution of the Authority Board when the member agency and its franchise collector are prepared for implementation. Every generator of solid waste is subject to the ordinance, except federal institutions.
  • Initially, two member cities of the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, Greenfield and Salinas, implemented the mandatory recycling ordinance. The other member jurisdictions will either implement the state’s proposed commercial recycling regulations when finalized or pursue an effective date for the Authority’s recycling ordinance.
  • In Greenfield, the tons of materials recycled by businesses increased by 152 percent (2009 compared to 2010). Materials collected included traditional bottles, plastic and cans eligible for California Redemption Value refunds plus paper and cardboard.
  • Education and outreach to multi-family communities (apartments) helped to increase recycling rates. One county-wide property manager saved $72,000 in the first full year after implementing the recycling program.
  • Other than staff time to work with the haulers, the cost to the cities to adopt and implement the commercial recycling program was minimal. The development costs for the Mandatory Recycling Ordinance, as well as the costs for all education and outreach activities related to recycling and waste diversion, was part of the Authority’s services to its members funded by landfill tipping fees.

    The Authority and hauler staff speak both English and Spanish in order to reach business owners and apartment managers and tenants. Written materials are available in both English and Spanish as well.
  • To date, no enforcement actions have been taken due to lack of compliance by businesses. Education has been effective so far, strengthened by cost saving opportunities. The response by businesses has been good, once they understand what is involved and once they see their first bill with reduced costs.
  • Recycling services cost less than solid waste disposal costs in all Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority jurisdictions. In the three smallest jurisdictions, businesses do not pay for recycling services.
  • The Authority used the Institute for Local Government’s Sample Commercial Recycling Ordinance, along with other ordinances, in preparing the ordinance for its member agencies. The Institute’s sample ordinance, with its extensive commentary, options and flexibility to modify to meet local conditions, helped focus the Authority on key issues to consider.

Lessons Learned

  • Educating businesses and multi-family complex mangers is key to increasing recycling quantities, even with a mandatory recycling ordinance.
  • The opportunity to save money serves as a major incentive for businesses to recycle.
  • One-on-one interaction with businesses and residents and conducting waste assessments increases recycling volumes.
  • Reducing disposal costs and opportunities to save money translate into a significant carrot for businesses to participate.
  • Having a minimum impact on business is helpful. For example, if a waste assessment recommendation includes having a covered recycling enclosure, it is helpful to work with permitting agencies (such as cities or the county) to streamline the permitting process. Key is to show the business that the cost savings from recycling will pay for the enclosure retrofits and that the permitting process is easy.
  • Having consistent, uniform requirements regionally or statewide sometimes is helpful in moving ahead to increase commercial recycling.
  • Having an understanding of applicable municipal (or county) codes and franchise agreement is critical in order to identify and resolve potential conflicts during the ordinance development.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story …

In January, 2010, the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, a joint powers authority consisting of five cities and the eastern portion of unincorporated Monterey County, adopted a mandatory recycling ordinance for all of its member agencies. The ordinance covers all generators, including residential, commercial, and multi-family residences. Traditional beverage containers (those covered by California’s beverage container recycling law), cardboard and paper, bagged plastic bags and plastics 1-7, construction and demolition material and yard waste make up the materials included in the ordinance. Food waste and compostable materials can be added once there is a facility within the County permitted to accept and process these materials.

The Solid Waste Authority plans to phase-in adoption of the ordinance by member agencies in order to provide time to work with haulers and member agencies to harmonize franchise agreement provisions, give the haulers time to gear up in order to provide signage and containers (such as for multi-family apartments), allow time to evaluate the impact on revenues from reduced disposal fees, and to develop an alternative revenue model. Once the experiences and performance of the program in Greenfield and Salinas can be evaluated, the Authority will consider expanding it to other member agencies.

Initial Two Cities Implement Mandatory Commercial Recycling

The City of Greenfield adopted a mandatory commercial recycling program about six months before the Solid Waste Authority adopted its ordinance. Greenfield’s implementation plan was completed to be in compliance with AB 939, the California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, under a compliance order from the California Integrated Waste Management Board (now CalRecycle).

Salinas, the largest city in the Authority, began implementing the ordinance in January 2010. It generates about 62 percent of the waste produced by the Authority’s member agencies. Salinas implemented the recycling ordinance at the same time it was renegotiating its franchise agreement with its hauler. The timing made it possible to align the language of the franchise agreement with the language of the ordinance.

Education and Outreach Limits Need for Enforcement and Compliance

As part of the education effort, the Solid Waste Authority developed downloadable signage samples that businesses and multi-family complexes can use to help understand what materials to put in which bins. The haulers also help with education activities with businesses. The best message to educate businesses is the money they will save by recycling more and disposing of less. For example, in the first full year after participating in the city’s mandatory recycling program, one county-wide property manager saved $72,000 in disposal costs.
The Authority contacts businesses and multi-family complexes directly to offer assistance, including waste assessments. It also responds to requests for waste assessments. One-on-one interaction is most effective, with the carrot to recycle being the reduction in disposal costs. The staff of both the Authority and hauler include individuals who speak Spanish and English and most of Authority’s the printed information is available in Spanish and English.

The Authority used a grant from the California Department of Conservation to provide education and outreach activities to residents in multi-family communities, resulting in a very high recycling rate in apartment communities. For example, in one 100 unit complex, 85 units sent residents to participate in a fiesta celebrating the kick-off for its recycling program.

The franchised hauler funds the cost of one recycling coordinator and one enforcement officer in Salinas. Very few if any enforcement and compliance actions have been needed, though, since education and technical assistance have proven to be effective. Individual member agencies handle enforcement of their ordinances and voluntary recycling programs through language in the franchise agreements.

The compliance language relates to contamination of recyclable material collection. Most agencies use a “3-strikes” type of compliance system. With the first strike the business receives a notice. With the second strike, the business receives another notice. With the third strike, the hauler can refuse to collect the recyclable material container or, can take the container’s contents and charge the generator based upon the significantly higher solid waste rate.

Hauler Responsibilities

As part of the franchise agreements, haulers provide signage to their customers and educate them about the need to recycle. The haulers must report information about tonnages collected and material types to the Solid Waste Authority monthly. Before adoption of the ordinances, the haulers provided this information voluntarily and as part of the different franchise agreements with the cities.

Results So Far

  • Solid waste authority and city staff report that business response to the new mandatory ordinances has been good, once the businesses understand what is involved, including opportunities to save money. Services offered include waste assessments, information about recycling opportunities and recommendations about how to reduce waste and increase recycling. When the first month’s bill arrives, the business owner sees the real financial benefits of recycling.
  • With just over one year of experience in Greenfield and about four months experience in Salinas, recycling rates are significantly higher, disposal rates are significantly reduced, and businesses are saving money. This is a result of the mandatory recycling ordinances, combined with the extensive education and outreach activities and lower recycling rates compared to disposal rates.
  • Greenfield saw a 152 percent increase in tonnages of recyclable materials collected between 2009 and 2010, at a time when the total number of commercial customers declined.
  • One county-wide multi-family complex property manager saved $72,000 in the first full year of recycling due to reduced disposal costs.
  • Detailed information about tonnages recycled will be available from the Authority in mid-2011.

Compiled September 2010 and April 2011

This story was prepared in partnership with the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).

1The Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority is a Joint Powers Authority that includes the cities of Salinas, Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield, and King City, plus the eastern portion of unincorporated Monterey County. Individual member jurisdictions contract separately with solid waste and recycling service providers and all have exclusive franchises with the service providers. The Authority is responsible for providing secure long-term solid waste disposal service to all of its members in an environmentally sound and cost-effective manner. To accomplish this goal, the Authority currently owns three closed and one open landfill and two transfer stations, and oversees the contract or operation of these facilities. The Authority is also responsible for overseeing future landfill siting or expansion to meet the area’s long-term solid waste disposal needs. The mission of the Authority is “to manage Salinas Valley solid waste as a resource, promoting sustainable, environmentally sound and cost effective practices through an integrated system of waste reduction, reuse, recycling, innovative technology, customer service and education.”

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