California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Resource Recovery Parks

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A resource recovery (RR) park is a new development in recycling. In its broadest sense, it is the co-location of reuse, recycling, compost processing, manufacturing, and retail businesses in a central facility. The public can bring all their wastes and recoverable materials to this facility at one time.

An RR park also goes by integrated resource recovery facility, serial materials recovery facility (MRF), recycling estate, industrial recycling park, recycling-based industrial park, or discard mall. A number of market forces are encouraging this type of development.

RR parks are developing in California in the following ways:

  • Master planning and zoning available land for an RR park as part of a comprehensive economic development strategy.
  • Siting of multiple reuse, recycling, and composting businesses around a landfill or transfer station (e.g., Monterey Regional Environmental Park and Davis Street Transfer Station in San Leandro).
  • Renovating abandoned buildings (e.g., Urban Ore in Berkeley and proposed sites in Del Norte County).
  • Co-promoting of nearby reuse, recycling, and composting businesses (e.g., Berkeley "Serial MRF").

In addition, two other scenarios are possible:

  • Rebuilding of "brownfield" sites (hazardous waste cleanup sites).
  • Development as part of "eco-industrial parks" emerging in response to general community-wide efforts to advance sustainable development.

RR Program Characteristics

An RR park enables the public to:

  • Reduce the amount of wastes requiring payment for disposal.
  • Recover some value from the sale of valuable materials in a "one- stop service center" for reuse, recycling, and composting.
  • Buy other items of value from reuse, recycling, compost, and recycled content retail stores.

The public will enjoy coming to these facilities to dispose of their materials and find unique items at bargain prices. For some families, RR parks can turn the chore of waste disposal into a fun family outing, with something for everyone.

An RR park enables the participating businesses to share:

  • Space (including warehousing).
  • Operating equipment (e.g., forklifts, balers, shredders, wheel loaders and trucks).
  • Preventive maintenance and repair services.
  • Pollution control equipment and services.
  • Facilities (e.g., maintenance yard, truck washing area, conference rooms, kitchen/break room, showers, and bathrooms).
  • Management and technical expertise.
  • Accounting, legal, and insurance services.
  • Promotions and advertising costs.
  • Government affairs and permitting services.
  • Administrative and clerical support services.
  • Communications equipment and services (e.g., copiers, computers, internet access, Web sites, fax machines, radios, and phones).
  • Staff recruitment and job training services.
  • Restaurant/snack bar for park businesses and customers.
  • Educational facilities and services (e.g, a nature trail, compost product demonstrations in gardens and landscaping, on-site composting bins for residents and businesses, demonstrations of recycled building products in use, and/or an environmental education display/museum.

In addition, reuse and recycling businesses in the RR park could share:

  • Knowledge and technology (networking among RR park tenants on how to address technical problems)
  • Showrooms for retail and consignment sales and temporary staffing support (including training area for new staff and for tours).

An RR park also helps participating businesses by matching wastes from one company to the resource needs of another. An RR park is an innovative, supportive, and fertile ground for new ideas on how to expand reuse, recycling, and composting in an area. RR parks could even simplify the expansion or start of new recycling services by developing and getting approval in advance for a master environmental impact report to cover most anticipated park activities.

Within an RR park, the market should determine the details of where, how, and to whom materials move. Source separation principles should govern, along with convenience, cleanliness, and satisfying the customer. The greater the amount of material separated into discrete subflows, the greater the income. As the RR park succeeds in its mission to attract and nurture businesses that add value to discarded materials, the number and variety of such businesses can and will grow.

RR parks should allow room for many small operators. Clustering small and large operators is a well-proven commercial principle, as any visit to a mall will attest. There, specialized vendors of all sizes meet to offer wares and services to crowds of customers. If run as isolated businesses, most of these enterprises would fail. But within the managed competition and cooperation of the mall environment, they thrive.

The same forces drive RR parks. Companies will become suppliers to one another to:

  • Decrease their disposal costs.
  • Increase their cash flow.
  • Build friendly networks in anticipation of beneficial trades to come.

Businesses will exchange information and learn from one another the latest and most advantageous techniques.  The combined operation will attract more trade, creating new niches for support businesses. The emerging business ecosystem will feed on resource flows from the larger economy, adjust to surges and droughts, and foster waste prevention.

Public Agency Roles in Support of RR Parks

Public agencies can play an active role in the development of an RR park. They could:

  • Identify sites for an RR park.
  • Contract with a business to operate the RR park. Skills in marketing, management, real estate leases, recruitment of businesses, and community relations will all be essential for a successful project.
  • Participate in operations functions such as: scalehouse/gatekeeper, park manager, retail stores, and administration. Rental income and a portion of sales tax revenue from retail sales at the park could cover the costs of park management.
  • Provide grants, loans, and other financing assistance.
  • Educate lending institutions and other financing sources about business development opportunities and the needs of recycling-related businesses.
  • Use Community Reinvestment Act policies to encourage investment in these projects.
  • Provide management services and act as a central point for business attraction.
  • Assist in marketing for the park.
  • Provide public lands (e.g., former military bases and brownfields).
  • Provide initial rent supports.
  • Provide technical assistance in the form of business and marketing plan review.
  • Provide bookkeeping and tax advice (possibly through a contract with a CPA or small business consultant).
  • Subsidize the cost of collection and disposal of garbage illegally dumped at the gates of the park outside of regular business hours.
  • Organize promotional events and fairs at the park to introduce the park to the community.
  • Coordinate fast track permitting processes.
  • Prepare a master development plan for the entire project.
  • Prepare a complete environmental assessment of the entire project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
  • Hire a permit coordinator to assist developers through the development review process.
  • Provide fast-track plan checking and permit processing through engineering departments.
  • Waive permit and development fees.
  • Assist in obtaining long-term commitments of feedstocks.

Local Government Challenges and Opportunities

Resource recovery parks are a new challenge and opportunity to dramatically expand reuse, recycling, and composting businesses. Local governments are in a unique position to make these happen. Because RR parks are new to communities, they require stakeholder involvement, including:

  • Local reuse, recycling and composting businesses.
  • Local waste haulers.
  • Local businesses (e.g., realtors, lending institutions, manufacturers).
  • Multiple city agencies (e.g., public works, planning, redevelopment/economic development).
  • County solid waste agencies.
  • State and federal solid waste agencies.

Local governments can play a key role in convening all these stakeholders. They can point out challenges and opportunities and identify how best to proceed in your local area.

RR parks are emerging in small rural counties like Del Norte (population 30,000) as well as in major metropolitan areas. RR parks combine unique waste reduction and recycling concepts—such as Recycling Market Development Zones—with traditional industrial park operation.

Until private developers understand the workings of RR parks and how to operate them, local governments will be the most likely catalysts for creating new parks. With their skills, resources, and leadership, municipalities can promote the RR park concept and mobilize stakeholders in working toward a common vision.

Tips for Success

  • Convene local stakeholders to educate and explore local options.
  • Identify existing reuse, recycling, and composting businesses that would like to expand.
  • Perform an analysis to identify wastes that need to be managed differently. This would show development potential of enterprises that reuse, recycle, or compost these wastes.
  • Identify local resources available and adopt policies in support of an RR park vision.
  • Contact others who have developed such facilities and learn how they approached the task.
  • Target realistic steps for your program, budget for them, and make sure they are accomplished.


Other Publications

  • Economic Development Alliance for Business, Feasibility Study for Eco-Industrial Park, prepared by Kelly Runyon, Brown, Vence & Associates and Bart Blum and Steven Sherman, Eco Development Associates, May 1998.
  • President's Council on Sustainable Development, Towards A Sustainable America: Advancing Prosperity, Opportunity, and a Healthy Environment for the 21st Century, May 1999.
  • Urban Ore, Inc., Generic Designs and Projected Performance for two sizes of Integrated Resource Recovery Facilities, prepared for the West Virginia Solid Waste Management Board, January 1995.
  • Zero Waste Plans

Gary Liss & Associates researched and wrote this summary for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) under CalRecycle's contract with the University of California at Santa Cruz. Part of a series of 24 studies and summaries (contract no. IWM-C8028).

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. The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) (IWMB) does not discriminate on the basis of disability in access to its programs. IWMB publications are available in accessible formats upon request by calling the Public Affairs Office at (916) 255-2296. Persons with hearing impairments can reach the IWMB through the California Relay Service, 1-800-735-2929.

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Last updated: October 5, 2015
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