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County of San Diego – Commercial Recycling Program to Address Climate Change

Case Story

Climate Action Connection: Commercial Recycling

Providing waste audits and technical assistance to businesses, including apartments and hotels/restaurants, can enhance compliance with mandatory recycling programs

Community:San Diego County

Population: 3.1 million


Unincorporated San Diego County’s mandatory recycling ordinance states “Mandatory recycling shall be in effect for all waste generated in unincorporated San Diego County.” It requires designated recyclables to be stored separately from refuse, requires the non-exclusive franchised waste haulers operating in the county to provide recycling services to businesses, and prohibits haulers from delivering for disposal any recyclable materials mixed with non-recyclable trash.

The ordinance includes special provisions for office buildings over 20,000 square feet and the hospitality industry. County staff work with multi-family and hospitality businesses to assist them establish on-site recycling systems which increases ability of the hauler to collect more recyclables.

Program Highlights

  • Recycling is mandatory in the unincorporated area of San Diego County, with special provisions for commercial buildings over 20,000 square feet and the hospitality industry (i.e., hotels and restaurants).
  • County staff assist multi-family complexes and hospitality businesses to improve on-site recycling systems.
  • Non-exclusive franchise hauler agreements with the county require haulers to comply with the county’s mandatory recycling ordinance.
  • Twenty-nine franchised haulers establish their own rates and level of service; businesses may obtain waste and recycling services from hauler of their choice.

Lessons Learned

  • Unless recycling is mandatory, businesses are unlikely to recycle in large quantities.
  • Actively promoting recycling directly to tenants and businesses increases the likelihood of recycling.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

In 1996, San Diego County adopted a mandatory recycling ordinance that applies to all waste generated in the county, regardless of whether the generator is a residential or business entity. It includes special provisions that require businesses over 20,000 square feet in size to recycle white paper and corrugated cardboard and provisions that require restaurants and taverns and hotels/motels with eating/drinking establishments to recycle glass jars and bottles, white goods, tin and bi-metal cans, plastic beverage bottles, aluminum and corrugated cardboard. In fall 2009, the county will begin reviewing and updating the existing ordinance.

Education the Key to Recycling in Multi-Family Complexes and Hospitality Industry

Over 50,000 people live in the over 35,000 separate apartments in over 700 multi-family complexes (apartment buildings and condominium complexes) in San Diego County.

Beginning in 2001, the county began educating property owners and tenants of multi-family residential complexes to assist them in establishing on-site recycling systems to make it easier for haulers to collect recyclable materials. In coordination with local haulers, the county established block captains at the complexes, offered free recycling bins for indoor and outdoor locations, and heavily promoted recycling to tenants with seminars and door-to-door literature. The efforts paid off with a significant increase in recycling at multi-family complexes, many of which reached a 50 percent recycling rate.

The county also offers waste audits and assistance to the hospitality industry. The audits also cover safety of recycling facilities, cleanliness of trucks and bins, and overall availability of recycling service. Businesses that achieve a high level of recycling receive an award.

Graduated Enforcement Promotes Compliance

San Diego County uses a graduated approach to enforcement to encourage compliance by businesses. For example, if a business is not complying with the recycling requirement, county officials visit the business and provide assistance to improve the recycling rate. However, if the business is unresponsive, the county sends a warning letter, followed by a fine that can increase over time. Because of its strong emphasis on proactive education and assistance, the county has rarely imposed fines.

Compiled May 2009

This case story was prepared in partnership with the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

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