Californians Now Recycle Half of Their Trash

A 16-year state campaign to divert more waste from dumps has hit its goal. As a result, no new landfills have opened in a decade.

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2006

State officials announced Thursday that California has finally achieved its goal of reducing landfill waste by 50%, thanks to diligent recycling by residents and businesses.

The milestone culminates a 16-year campaign by the state to persuade people to separate recyclables out of the trash.

The state passed a landmark law in 1989 mandating that communities establish waste-management plans for residents and businesses that would ultimately divert at least 50% of all recyclable trash from landfills. California was supposed to reach the goal in 2000, but preliminary data released Thursday show that the goal wasn’t reached until last year.

A total of 88 million tons of solid waste was recycled in 2005 for a 52% recycling rate, said Jon Myers, a spokesman for the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board. In 2004, 76 million tons were recycled, or 48%.

Though some cities still lag behind, other communities that are now diverting 60% or more of their waste to recycling centers made up the difference.

Myers said the recycling push has achieved one of the intended effects: No new landfills have opened in California in a decade.

“I’m really proud of everyone,” said Scott Von Lanken, a Thousand Oaks resident who on Thursday was doing his part for recycling.

He and his daughter placed special recyclable bedding for their hamster cage into the recycling bin set aside for composting.

Thousand Oaks was one of the cities that exceeded the 50% standard, and Von Lanken said he was pleasantly surprised.

“I was really shocked that that much stuff is going to recycle. I can’t believe it,” he said.

The recycling effort got off to a slow start, in part because it focused largely on recycling household waste. But officials said the effort picked up as more businesses agreed — or were required — to recycle.

At least 20% of the state’s garbage comes from construction and demolition projects, and cities and counties are increasingly requiring builders to recycle their materials.

In Pasadena, which achieved a 62% rate in 2005, such an ordinance helped push the city over the top, said Ursula Schmidt, Pasadena’s recycling program coordinator.

The law requires nearly all projects of 1,000 square feet or more to recycle, salvage or reuse at least 50% of the waste material they generate.

The city provides builders and demolition crews with a list of places that will take their old concrete, wood and lumber. Old doors and window frames can be donated to Habitat for Humanity, Schmidt said.

“The reception has been very positive,” she said. “That’s tonnage that’s being diverted to recycling.”

Increasingly, Myers said, businesses are realizing the cost savings associated with recycling and that consumers want to patronize companies viewed as environmentally friendly.

“They see the professional value of becoming a green business and recycling,” he said.

Determining how much trash is being recycled is a delicate task. The tonnage can’t be compared with 1989 levels because there were far fewer people in the state.

So the state uses a complex formula that takes into account economic and demographic factors to estimate how much trash would be dumped at landfills without recycling.

The state recently changed the formula, resulting in a slight increase in the amount of trash that officials estimated was recycled.

But Myers said that even without the change, California would still have 50%. With the modification, it got to 52%.

Lawmakers approved the 1989 rules at a time when Californians feared they were running out of space for their trash. As old dumps filled up and neighbors blocked new ones, counties closed their landfills to outsiders. At the time, only 35 curbside recycling programs existed in the state.

The law was considered a national model that other states have since adopted.

There were widespread cheers in 1994 when the state reached the 25% target. But at the time, some blamed the drop in trash in part on the recession and questioned whether California would hit the 50% target.


ECO-QUIZ

Reuse it or lose it?

Rebecca Frantz

Answers are in bold.

1. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the per capita amount of trash generated in the U.S. changed by what percentage between 1960 and 2003?

A. Decreased by 14%

B. Increased by 39%

C. Increased by 67%

2. Which of the following constitutes a higher percentage of household waste by weight?

A. Paper

B. Plastic

C. Food scraps

3. According to a recent survey sponsored in part by the National Assn. of Home Builders, environmentally responsible construction represented what percentage of all residential housing starts last year?

A. 1%

B. 2%

C. 6%

4. According to the education and advocacy group Global Green USA, of the three following actions, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions the most?

A. Driving 15 fewer miles each week

B. Recycling half of the aluminum, glass, plastic and paper that you use

C. Using your air conditioning and heater less by adjusting both by 3 degrees

5. According to the Department of Energy, which of the following accounts for the most energy usage in all American homes?

A. Air-conditioning (central and room units)

B. Refrigerators and freezers

C. Home electronics

6. According to the Aluminum Assn., the amount of energy used to create one soda can from virgin metal is the same as what’s used to produce how many recycled aluminum cans?

A. 10

B. 15

C. 20

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