California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Local Government Central

California's 2008 Per Capita Disposal Rate

Summary

In 2008, California's statewide disposal was 35.5 million tons, the per resident disposal rate was 5.1 pounds/resident/day, and the estimated diversion rate equivalent was 59 percent. This rate was calculated using SB 1016's new measurement system. While the economic downturn has likely been the major driver of this drop in disposal, continued implementation of diversion programs has undoubtedly also led to decreased disposal. When the economy rebounds waste generation will increase as well, so if these decreases in disposal are to last, efforts to divert solid waste cannot wane.

Many jurisdictions may face challenges maintaining their current diversion programs given the economy and revenue problems that could impact diversion program infrastructure. Under a quick recovery, generation and disposal may both rebound more quickly than the diversion infrastructure and local programs. Even though times are very tough, now is the time to plan for the diversion programs that will be needed when the recovery comes.

To provide a benchmark that is consistent with the new methodology that we require local jurisdictions to use, staff recalculated the 2007 statewide diversion rate equivalent to be 54 percent rather than the 58 percent reported late last year. The difference in rates is due to the base against which progress is measured. Now that we have a standardized methodology, the new methodology will provide results that are more consistent and more comparable from year to year. However, this change does not affect the official diversion rate of 58 percent for 2007 using the old goal measurement method.

Background

California's per capita (per resident or per employee) disposal measurement system (SB 1016, Wiggins, Chapter 343, Statutes of 2008) is simpler and faster than the old method, because it now focuses on only disposal and population, two readily available factors. In subsequent years, staff will be able to produce diversion rate equivalent estimates by June for the prior calendar year.

Analysis

Last year, 37.9 million Californians disposed of 35.5 million tons of solid waste. This is a very large amount, but it is a significant reduction in both overall disposal and per resident disposal from prior years. Overall disposal has decreased by 7 million tons (more than 16 percent) from its peak 42.5 million tons in 2005. Per resident disposal is currently the lowest since disposal reporting began in 1995, and is down 1.2 pounds from the peak of 6.3 pounds per resident per day in 2005.

Even when diversion rates where steadily increasing, disposal slowly crept upward and per capita disposal remained stubbornly level. Part of the drive behind SB 1016 was to address this problem and go after actual decreases in disposal. As a result, the new measurement system has fewer loopholes and less generous adjustments than the prior method of calculating diversion rates, so increases in the statewide rate (as well as jurisdiction's rates) under the new system will more accurately reflect real efforts, real programs and real reductions in disposal. Smaller jurisdictions will continue to have accuracy challenges because population and disposal estimates for these jurisdictions are subject to considerable error.

One major point of SB 1016 was to shift the focus away from numeric estimates which are just one indicator to consider and toward diversion program implementation efforts which are better and more meaningful long-term indicators. The shift in focus from estimated diversion to measured disposal is a fundamental change that may well require renewed dedication and efforts from the Board and its stakeholders in order to make meaningful reductions in disposal, and thus the corresponding benefits in conserving natural resources, reducing environmental impacts of disposal and reducing climate change emissions.

In order to provide a benchmark that is consistent with the new methodology we require local jurisdictions to use, staff recalculated the 2007 statewide diversion rate equivalent to be 54 percent rather than the 58 percent reported late last year. The difference in rates is due to the base against which progress is measured. The 54 percent rate was generated using the same four year average (2003 to 2006) for the statewide base that jurisdictions use. Now that we have a standardized methodology, the new methodology will provide results that are more consistent and more comparable from year to year. This change does not affect the official diversion rate for 2007 using the old goal measurement method, so it remained at 58 percent--California's Estimated Statewide Diversion Rates Since 1995.

Please note that the diversion rates under the old system, were calculated using additional demographic factors, increasing base-year generation over time, different year types (calendar, federal fiscal and state fiscal) and different inputs/adjustments from year to year. For more information about the old diversion rate system, please visit the Disposal and Diversion Rate Statistics: 1989-2006 page.

For comparison purposes, staff also calculated statewide disposal per employee and the statewide diversion rate equivalent using employment rather than population; this alternative exists in statute for jurisdictions with waste streams dominated by commercial and industrial activities. California's disposed waste stream is approximately 75 percent commercial (including multi-family housing and all sources of commercial waste) and 25 percent single family residential, so it is appropriate to consider this alternative. Using employment data from the Employment Development Department (Excel, file size unknown), 2008 employment was 15.4 million employees, the per employee disposal was 12.7 pounds per employee per day, and the statewide diversion rate equivalent would be 58 percent. This is very close to the 59 percent rate derived from the per resident disposal method.

Previous Years' Statewide Diversion Rates

Last updated: November 18, 2009
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