California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Sonoma County Joint Powers Authority

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A Model for Local Government Recycling and Waste Reduction

Sonoma County is a model of communities joining together through a regional agency to meet the requirements of the California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989(AB 939, Sher, Chapter 1095, Statutes of 1989). The jurisdictions of Sonoma County worked together early in the planning process following the adoption of AB 939. In 1992, they agreed to formalize this regional cooperation and formed the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency as a Joint Powers Authority (JPA).

The JPA was formed for certain programs and waste streams that could be managed on a regional basis in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Each jurisdiction retained responsibility for the collection of refuse, wood waste, and yard debris. Jurisdictions also implement other waste diversion programs at the local level (e.g., curbside recycling). In 1996, the JPA was approved as a Regional Agency (RA) [PRC Article 3. Regional Agencies]. As an RA, the JPA can now report on the combined disposal, diversion, and programs of all member jurisdictions, instead of on their individual accomplishments.


The JPA provides a wide range of services to all member jurisdictions, including:

  • Prepares required reports (e.g., non-disposal facility elements, disposal and diversion reports, annual reports).
  • Wood waste and yard debris recycling.
  • Transfer and disposal site services.
  • Other diversion programs (e.g., home composting, commercial food waste composting).
  • Countywide waste reduction education.
  • Funding for the Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ) of Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties.

This regional program has worked well for all the communities, residents, and businesses in Sonoma County. By pooling their resources, the communities were able to hire full-time professional staff to assist them in many aspects of implementing, promoting, and reporting the success of recycling programs. They leverage each other’s expertise and resources and collaborate on providing services where there have been gaps in the past.

The communities delegate authority and responsibility to the JPA, but all retain a veto. Through diplomacy and mutual respect, they work out issues of concern in a methodical way that has resulted in stronger programs for all. The JPA maintains a broad, countywide focus, and is “blind to political boundaries” in its decision making and implementation.

Sonoma County Waste Management Agency reported a diversion rate of 39 percent in its 1998 annual report to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). The major programs contributing to that diversion rate, in order of quantities diverted, were:

Yard debris composting 45%
Curbside recycling 25%
Commercial recycling 15%
Wood waste recovery 9%
County drop-offs 8%
Floor-sort and white goods program 7%

In the future, materials that they will be focusing on in the residential sector include corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, newspaper, and organics.  In the commercial sector, they will be focusing particularly on increased C&D debris reuse and recycling.

One of the hallmarks of the Sonoma County program is its wide variety of outreach and education programs. The county promotes an ethic of reduce-reuse-recycle, with the goal of working towards a truly sustainable world.

In the residential sector, Sonoma County is starting pioneering work to achieve sustainable behavior changes through community-based social marketing. The county is planning on using scientific tools (e.g., a professional marketing firm and focus groups) to identify barriers to resource conservation and to target program marketing and outreach where it will be most effective.

In the commercial sector, the JPA encourages businesses to recycle and reduce waste, prevent pollution, help restore the economy, and work in synch with nature.  They hope to demonstrate the value of businesses redefining their corporate goals to include long-term sustainability.

The JPA is building on the messages advocated by The Natural Step and Paul Hawken (author of Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism). They are planning to develop additional economic incentives and permit requirements to encourage businesses to embrace these goals.

Costs and Economics

The JPA budget for the past several years has averaged about $2.5 million per year. Regular funding for the JPA comes from a $2-per-ton disposal site surcharge and tipping fees for wood waste ($12 per ton) and yard debris ($27 per ton). In addition, the JPA has obtained additional funding through grants (especially from the CalRecycle for oil recycling), from profit sharing with the composting contractor (Sonoma Compost Co.), and interest on reserved funds.

The disposal site surcharges cover the costs of the JPA’s planning, report-writing, countywide education, RMDZ program, and household hazardous waste management. The organics tipping fees cover the costs of processing, composting, and marketing various products made from wood waste and yard debris. CalRecycle grants help fund programs for used motor oil, used oil filter recycling, and household hazardous waste education.

Tips for Replication


Pursuant to contract (IWM-C8028) with the University of California at Santa Cruz for a series of 24 studies and summaries, Gary Liss & Associates researched and wrote this summary for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).

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.

Last updated: October 5, 2015
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