California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Business Recycling Plans & Policies

Download the full version of Business Recycling Plans and Policies: Tools for Local Government Recycling and Waste Reduction

Tools for Local Government Recycling and Waste Reduction


Communities could encourage or require businesses to recycle by adopting a variety of policies and mandates, such as:

  • Land use permit conditions
  • Recycling planning requirements
  • Waste diversion requirements
  • Source separation requirements
  • Product bans
  • Landfill bans
  • Procurement requirements
  • Take-back requirements
  • Deposits
  • Zoning changes

If businesses do not respond to voluntary incentives, then communities may need to resort to the adoption of policies and mandates. To make recycling a priority for businesses, communities could try several approaches.

Probably one of the most powerful and familiar tools for local governments is placing conditions on local land use permits. Planning departments can include recycling and recycled-content requirements in conditional use permits.

In Los Angeles, approval of the Playa Vista development of 5.1 million square feet of commercial space and 13,000 residential units included special conditions for:

  • Recycling C&D debris
  • Use of recycled-content products
  • Ongoing recycling programs

More than 84,000 tons of C&D material was recycled, recovering 92 percent of all materials generated. Many other recycling efforts are underway. The Los Angeles City Council has just passed a motion to develop similar sustainable development guidelines for all future city building projects and private sector developments.

Some local governments are also working with reuse, recycling, and composting businesses to develop more appropriate zoning for these types of businesses. In some areas, local governments are encouraging these businesses to be located near to each other, to create a “recycling zone” where the public can go to find all types of thrift stores, salvage shops, rental operations, and recycling businesses.

In Berkeley, California, the city recently amended its zoning to permit a new type of use—“Materials Recovery Enterprise”—in the mixed-use light industrial zone. The zoning change will help Urban Ore and other reuse and recycling businesses relocate to this area. This was part of an economic development effort during the past year by local, county, and State agencies. The goal was to keep Urban Ore in the area after the business lost its lease on another longtime site elsewhere in Berkeley.

Some communities require businesses to develop recycling plans.  Since 1991, Pittsburg, California, has required businesses to submit a simple recycling plan and site plan with their annual business tax reports.  This includes a two-page waste audit and a two-page site plan highlighting how the business will recycle.

Some communities have required that businesses source-separate designated recyclable materials and that haulers provide recycling services for those designated materials.

In 1991, San Diego County adopted its mandatory recycling ordinance (MRO). The MRO required designated recyclables to be source-separated. A disposal ban for these designated recyclables at county landfills is the enforcement tool for the MRO.

To help implement this law smoothly, San Diego conducted an aggressive promotional and educational campaign. The city also provided tonnage grants to cities and a competitive grant program for other public and private entities to expand recycling in the county.

Some communities have banned specific products or encouraged businesses to stop using specific products. Pittsburg, California, adopted guidelines for businesses to phase out packaging processed with chlorofluorocarbons (CFC)  and packaging that is not reusable, redeemable, or recyclable. Many communities, counties, and states have banned a wide variety of materials from landfills around the country to increase reuse, recycling, and composting.

Most of the landfill bans apply to materials that are easily recycled. Landfill bans work particularly well to quickly increase waste diversion if markets or uses exist for the materials.

A major advantage of landfill bans is that they impact waste streams not controlled or managed directly by many cities. This is especially true of self-hauled wastes. Landfill bans are most easily enacted when a public agency owns a transfer station or landfill.

Landfill bans have typically applied to the following materials:

  • Yard waste (23 states ban some or all)
  • Automobile wastes (including motor oil, oil filters, and vehicle batteries)
  • Tires (32 states ban, 9 for whole tires only)
  • White goods/bulky items (16 states ban)

Other jurisdictions have enacted landfill bans for the following materials:

  • Construction & demolition debris
  • Newspaper
  • Magazines
  • Corrugated cardboard (almost all counties in North Carolina)
  • Computer and office paper
  • Glass and metal containers
  • Difficult-to-recycle plastics
  • Telephone books

Deposits are another tool that can be used to influence the marketplace. California mandates its beverage container recycling system through the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act (AB 2020, Margolin, Chapter 1290, Statutes of 1986). Commonly called the “Bottle Bill,” this is the best example of a deposit system.

Some communities now require deposits when residents, businesses, or contractors seek permits for C&D activities. Jurisdictions could require deposits for compliance with other business recycling regulations.

Atherton, California, requires a $50 deposit for all waste estimated to be produced by that project. Contractors must show that they have recycled at least 50 percent of the waste generated, or the town keeps $50 for each ton below the 50 percent goal.

The City of San Jose is working on a C&D deposit for diversion. The city proposes to collect a deposit when a building permit is issued for construction, demolition, and remodeling projects. These deposits will be set slightly higher than the tipping fees at recycling facilities. For deposit return, contractors must provide receipts showing that the project’s C&D waste has been accepted by a recycling facility.

Some communities are developing voluntary or mandatory take-back programs. Local governments could work with retailers to develop voluntary take-back programs like those for plastic bags from grocery stores and hangers from dry cleaners.

For example, communities could encourage or require businesses to take back products (e.g., latex paints, batteries, oil and/or tires) they sell. Businesses could be encouraged or required to develop better repair services and systems for the products they sell.

Another idea is to require businesses that sell products to offer cost-effective repair services for those products in their community. This would be particularly appropriate for products that are difficult for local governments to properly reuse, recycle, or dispose.

San Francisco and Alameda County worked with the Materials for the Future Foundation (MFF) to develop four electronic collection and recycling pilot programs. Alameda County staff concluded after these pilot programs that some type of takeback program may be required to address the problem of electronics reuse and recycling in the county.

Tips for Replication

Many opportunities are available for communities and businesses to work together on recycling and waste reduction. To achieve success, try the following:

  • Talk to business leaders who will be affected by proposed incentives and policies in advance, and identify the most appropriate approach for your community.
  • Incrementally add incentives, policies, and mandates as necessary to address materials or businesses that have not participated already.
  • Focus on the largest generators and work with businesses in informal work groups to share information and resolve common problems.
  • Tailor information, technical assistance, incentives, policies, and mandates to individual materials and businesses until you have achieved your goals.


Pursuant to contract (IWM-C8028) with the University of California at Santa Cruz for a series of 24 studies and summaries, Gary Liss & Associates prepared this summary.

The statements and conclusions in this summary are those of the contractor and not necessarily those of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), its employees, or the State of California. In addition, the data in this report was provided by local sources but not independently verified. The State and its contractors make no warranty, express or implied, and assume no liability for the information contained in this text. Any mention of commercial products, companies, or processes shall not be construed as an endorsement of such products or processes.

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Last updated: October 5, 2015
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