California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

News Release

Office of Public Affairs

For Immediate Release: June 18, 2014
Release #2014-16
For more information contact:
Media Contact: Heather Jones

Waste Disposal Rate Remains Low Amid Accelerating Economy

SACRAMENTO – Despite an improving economy in which more material is being produced, bought, and consumed, Californians remain vigilant about keeping waste out of landfills.

The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) announced today that Californians disposed an average of 4.4 pounds of solid waste per person per day in 2013, representing little change over the previous year. By holding steady on disposal during a period of growth, Californians continue to demonstrate a commitment to habits that support the state’s waste reduction and resource conservation goals.

“A stronger economy brings a tougher challenge to our efforts to reduce waste, and California’s response has been commendable,” CalRecycle Director Caroll Mortensen said. “There’s every reason to believe we can maintain a balance between our economy and environment. With an ongoing commitment and new measures that strengthen our campaign to reduce, reuse, and recycle our discards, we aim to preserve sustainability as we experience growth.”

The state’s recycling performance in 2013 continues an astonishing long-term trend in which California residents have cut their disposal by nearly half. In 1989 — the year the state’s Integrated Waste Management Act went into effect — the disposal rate was more than 8 pounds per person per day.

The per-person disposal rate is not reflective of actual trash thrown away by individuals, since it’s an average that also includes waste from the commercial sector. The commercial sector, which includes all businesses as well as government, schools, and other non-residential waste producers, generates more than two-thirds of the waste in the state.

Labor markets, real estate markets, and construction steadily increased in 2013 over the previous year, according to the California Department of Finance. All three trends have historically contributed toward increased solid waste generation.

However, new commercial recycling requirements and expanded efforts by California businesses helped keep a lid on disposal. The 2013 per-employee disposal rate, used as an additional metric to determine overall waste disposal rates, was 10.6 pounds per employee per day, an improvement over 2012’s 10.8 pounds. In 2011, the rate was 11.3 pounds per person per day.

Using the per-employee metric, the 2013 statewide diversion rate went up by one percentage point to 66 percent. Using the per-person metric, the 2013 statewide diversion rate went down by one percentage point to 65 percent. Overall, this shows there was not much change from 2012 to 2013. Historical trends, however, underscore the need for California to remain vigilant as the economy continues to improve.

With respect to the state’s goal of recycling 75 percent of its waste by 2020, CalRecycle uses a recycling rate calculation that removes from the equation certain materials and activities currently counted as diversion, such as green waste used as alternative daily cover at landfills and solid waste used as fuel. Using that method, the recycling rate for 2013 held steady at 50 percent.

As more businesses, schools, and apartment complexes implement recycling programs under the state’s new mandatory commercial recycling law, the recycling rate is expected to improve. Likewise, ongoing efforts to increase the diversion of compostable organics could be a significant boost to the recycling rate since such material comprises the largest percentage of waste in landfills.

CalRecycle also continues to manage grant and loan programs for recycling markets and businesses, as well as research to find new ways to use recycled feedstock and cleaner ways to produce recycled materials.

The following chart lists disposal and population data from 1989 to 2013.

California Statewide Waste Disposal, Population and Per Resident Disposal
Year Disposal (million tons) Population (million) Per Resident Disposal (lbs./resident/day)
2013 30.2 38.0 4.4
2012 29.3 37.7 4.3
2011 29.9 37.4 4.4
2010 30.4 37.2 4.5
2009 31.1 38.3 4.5
2008 35.5 37.9 5.1
2007 39.3 37.5 5.7
2006 41.4 37.1 6.1
2005 42.5 36.7 6.3
2004 41.3 36.2 6.2
2003 40.2 35.7 6.2
2002 38.2 35.1 6.0
2001 38.1 34.4 6.1
2000 38.6 33.7 6.3
1999 37.4 33.1 6.2
1998 37.2 32.7 6.2
1997 35.2 32.2 6.0
1996 33.8 31.8 5.8
1995 34.2 31.6 5.9
1994 36.3 31.4 6.3
1993 36.7 31.2 6.5
1992 38.4 30.7 6.8
1991 39.5 30.1 7.2
1990 42.4 29.8 7.8
1989 44.0 28.8 8.4

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CalRecycle provides oversight of California solid waste handling and recycling programs to protect human health, develop sustainable solutions that conserve resources, and reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

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