New Solid Waste Diversion Requirements Take Effect

Since the late 1980’s, California has been a leader in making solid waste reduction a priority through various recycling requirements and incentives. The policy objectives of the State have been focused on effective utilization of remaining landfill space in the State, increasing the use of recycled materials, and in later years, greenhouse gas reduction.

The first legislation in California to address these policy goals was AB 939, signed into law in 1989. AB 939 set the first diversion rates, the proportion of solid waste that needs to be recycled, for local jurisdictions at 25% by 1995 and 50% by 2000. As a result, by the year 2000, there were just under 16,000 diversion programs in the State.

AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, was enacted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide. The Act required a Mandatory Commercial Recycling Measure be implemented to reduce commercial waste (trash) and reach a 75% recycling rate by 2020. AB 341, signed into law in 2011, laid out a program to achieve the 75% reduction. AB 341 mandated that businesses generating 4 cubic yards or more of commercial solid waste (trash) per week or multifamily dwellings with five or more units must arrange for recycling services. Each local jurisdiction in the State was required by AB 341 to implement a commercial solid waste recycling program and report annually on progress. The burden of local program implementation and measuring the success of those programs fell on local jurisdictions without funding from the State for implementation.

While California has done an excellent job meeting solid waste reduction requirements, recent legislation has focused on reducing organic material such as food waste, landscape debris, wood waste and food-soiled debris in landfills. Organic material is of particular interest to regulators as scientists discovered that these materials accounted for significant levels of carbon dioxide and methane release, and addressing their reduction would help achieve greenhouse gas reductions sought by AB32.

In 2014, Governor Brown signed AB 1826 into law, which sought to greatly reduce the amount of organic material deposited into landfills by further mandating waste recycling services for organic material. At the beginning of 2016, local jurisdictions were required under AB 1826 to implement an organic waste recycling program and measure and monitor their efforts. Effective April 1st of 2016, businesses and qualifying multifamily dwelling units generating more than 8 cubic yards of organic waste per week were required to arrange for organic waste recycling services. Then, in January 2017, the scope of its applicability will expand to businesses and qualifying multifamily dwelling units generating 4 cubic yards of organic waste per week. Effective January 1, 2019, businesses and qualifying multifamily dwelling units generating 4 cubic yards of commercial solid waste (those covered under AB 341) will further be required to arrange for organic waste recycling services in addition to their regular recycling services. If by late 2021 it is determined that statewide disposal of organic waste has not been reduced by 50% when compared to 2014, the organic recycling requirements will be expanded to include businesses that generate 2 cubic yards or more of commercial solid waste per week. If the requirements are expanded to this level, it is estimated that 95% of businesses in the State will be impacted.

Also taking effect January 1, 2017 is Section 5.408 “Construction Waste Reduction, Disposal and Recycling” of the 2016 California Green Building Standards code (CalGreen). Section 5.408 requires all new construction and demolition projects to develop a Construction Waste Management Plan which recycles or salvages a minimum of 65% of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste. This is an increase from the 50% recycling rate established in 2014 by the prior CalGreen building code. A jurisdiction can elect to implement its own diversion requirements, but if that is the case, the requirements must be more stringent than the CalGreen code. Throughout the construction process, a waste management company must be engaged to provide verification that the material diversion rate complies with the new 65% requirement.

Legislative and regulatory requirements focus heavily on measurement. The burden of developing local measurement programs have fallen to local governments who issue waste hauler franchises or permits. In some cases, waste haulers provide tracking solutions to report results for regulator compliance. In other cases, the cities themselves have implemented bin tracking and permitting tools to achieve compliance. In all cases, however, it is the city staff, usually in public works, who must become expert in this quickly changing landscape of regulatory compliance.

Failure to implement programs to achieve State diversion compliance or to hit the compliance objectives has consequences. If a jurisdiction is found to not be in compliance, it faces compliance orders from the State and possible penalty hearings.

For individual cities, especially smaller ones, the requirements put in place by these pieces of legislation can be daunting. Implementing programs to comply with AB 1826 and others can be beyond the expertise or the capacity of the city staff, especially when the State provides no funding for implementation. This is exactly the challenge that drove the formation of MuniEnvironmental, with a goal to provide scale and expertise to cities to effectively manage this regulatory risk. MuniEnvironmental has a proven track record of implementing diversion programs. Learn more about our services here.

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