California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

21st Century Policy Project

Future Search Conference Issue: AB 939 in the New Millennium

Issue Definition and Scope

AB 939 established the current organization, structure, and mission of CIWMB in 1989. The enactment of AB 939 resulted from an unprecedented political consensus. Driving factors for that consensus included a national crisis in landfill capacity and broad acceptance of the hierarchy (reduce, reuse, recycle, environmentally sound land filling and transformation) as the desired approach to solid waste management. Since that time landfill capacity has increased. Regional capacity problems exist, but capacity is no longer considered the statewide crisis it once was. Some local decision makers have generated an on-going cost vs. benefit debate relating to the existing hierarchy, as new approaches come to the forefront. AB 939 has achieved significant progress in waste diversion, program implementation, solid waste planning, and protection of public health and safety and the environment from the operation of landfills and solid waste facilities. However, it is also evident that the remaining effort needed to meet and maintain the year 2000 goals of AB 939 could be monumental for some jurisdictions. What new ideas and approaches are necessary to build upon the progress of AB 939?


AB 939 not only mandated local jurisdictions to meet numerical diversion goals of 25% by 1995 and 50% by 2000, but also established an integrated framework for program implementation, solid waste planning, and solid waste facility and landfill compliance. Other elements included encouraging resource conservation and considering the effects of waste management operations. The diversion goals and program requirements are implemented through a disposal based reporting system by local jurisdictions under CIWMB regulatory oversight. Facility compliance requirements are implemented under a different approach primarily through local government enforcement agencies. While the regulated community has benefited from the Board’s regulatory reform achievements, the regulatory approach for facility compliance generally remains a "command and control" system emphasizing individual facility permits and separation of air, water, and land media

Issue Questions

  • Should the focus of AB 939 change to promoting sustainability?
  • Is the hierarchy still responsive to California’s needs? Is something missing from the hierarchy?
  • How will we address environmental justice issues related to the siting of waste operations/facilities?
  • Are we measuring the right things? Are they comparable and consistent? Should there be a greater emphasis on advocating program implementation versus relying on percent mandates, accounting, and measurement?
  • Are there viable alternatives to percent mandates? Should the basis change to methods that better focus on the top of the solid waste hierarchy?
  • Should the AB 939 approach to transformation be changed?
  • Given that there is no sunset clause for AB939, what happens after 2000? What should the CIWMB do for jurisdictions that have achieved the 50 percent goal?
  • How do we encourage jurisdictions to divert waste and explore new waste management approaches when some regional landfill capacity is increasing? In response, how can the State provide incentives for beneficial use of landfill gas and technologies such as bioreactors, reclamation, and postclosure land use to better address the long-term impacts of landfills?
  • How can AB 939 better reflect the economic pressures faced by state and local government? And what should those decisions be weighed against?
  • How can the CIWMB improve partnerships with local government in implementing AB 939?
  • How can CIWMB help local jurisdictions achieve the many outcomes in AB 939, such as: market development, buy recycled, public education, and others.
  • Should the CIWMB and CalEPA shift from the current command and control facility compliance approach to a more integrated multimedia and environmental management system approach? Do such alternate systems, such as ISO 14000, achieve the required level of environmental protection? If so, how can this be accomplished?
  • The waste management infrastructure expanded significantly in response to waste management legislation. If there are changes in the law that alter current waste handling practices, how can current infrastructure investments be protected?
  • If "closing the loop" promotes sustainability, should Buy Recycled be added to the hierarchy?
Last updated: May 1, 1999
21st Century Project,
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