When you look at the American cities with the highest recycling rates, an interesting pattern emerges: They’re mostly on the West Coast. Maybe it’s the West’s environmentally conscious culture, or maybe it’s something in the water, but of the five cities we found doing the best jobs diverting their discards from local landfills, all were on the Pacific Coast—and all but one in California.
That’s not to say that cities elsewhere aren’t doing important work to reduce their waste streams. But when you map those cities that reduce, compost, or recycle more than 65 percent of their trash, that map is heavily weighted to the left.
Some of the reason for California’s dominance is that the state has been mandating tough waste diversion quotas for a long time. A California law passed in 1989 required cities and counties to cut their landfill shipments in half by 2000; another law passed in 2011 upped that to 75 percent by 2020. So it’s no surprise that California's cities are ahead of the rest of the United States when it comes to diverting trash from landfills. They have to be: It’s the law.