Cali Cities Race to Recycle Finish Line

WITH AGGRESSIVE RECYCLING PLANS and stiff penalties for those who don't take recycling cans and milk cartons seriously, California is creeping closer to its dream of 50 percent statewide waste diversion — even if it is two years late and two percentage points shy of its original goal.

The California Integrated Waste Management Act required the state to reach 25 percent diversion by 1995 and 50 percent by 2000. In 2002, the state diversion total was 48 percent, up from 44 percent in 2001. According to Sacramento-based California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) Spokesman Lanny Clavecilla, the 2002 figure represents the state's most significant hike since the Integrated Waste Management Act took effect in 1990.

The improvement in 2002 can largely be attributed to the board's increasing determination to coach some of its slower districts with a firm hand. California jurisdictions are, at first, autonomous in their pursuit of diversion, and a majority of cities is successful. But when one or more of the 445 jurisdictions CIWMB keeps its eye on fails to reach the 50 percent diversion goal, the result can be a $10,000 per-day penalty.

The fines are a last-resort, but a persuasive call to act, Clavecilla says. Four communities have been fined so far. But one of the four jurisdictions was excused because it didn't have enough resources or staffing to reduce more waste. The other communities will pay fines until their waste reductions reach a satisfactory level.

Communities are not left alone to flounder, however. CIWMB examiners become more closely involved with a jurisdiction's reuse, recycling and composting efforts when it fails to divert high percentages of waste. And the group's staff helps city or county leaders from jurisdictions chart their progress in reaching the CIWMB's compliance schedule.

Getting an “A” for effort is not out of the question, either. Cities that demontsrate adequate gestures toward diversion without the high numbers to prove it are given a “good faith” evaluation and are not penalized.

The drive toward 50 percent diversion is focused and encourages communities to not take shortsighted steps to achieve diversion, Clavecilla says. “CIWMB donates funds and promotes research that develops sustainable markets,” he notes, adding that the board has established 40 market-development zones throughout the state, and businesses within those zones can apply for financial assistance from the board for recycling-based operations. CIWMB also recognizes exemplary businesses through its waste-reduction awards program (WRAP).

CIWMB's strong diversion focus has created some star pupils. Blue Lake in Humboldt County (population 1,238), for example, recycled 91 percent of its waste in 2002. California's larger cities are setting lofty goals, too. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has mandated the city reach 75 percent by 2010 and has adopted a goal of zero waste by 2020. To the South, recyclers are feeling the burn of competition.

Los Angeles diverted 60 percent of its waste in 2000, and its city council has mandated 70 percent diversion by 2020. To reach this goal, the Los Angeles Department of Public Works has launched seven new programs and is expanding others.

The new “Recycling for Dollars” program is expected to generate the most public response. In fact, Enrique Zaldivar, assistant director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works Bureau of Sanitation, says the $100 to $200 weekly reward for following city recycling rules should more than pay for itself.

“Word [of the Recycling for Dollars program] will get out,” he says. “It will be more than the equivalent of us spending $5 million on an education campaign.”