The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle, is a department within the California Environmental Protection Agency.
CalRecycle administers and provides oversight for all of California’s state-managed waste handling and recycling programs. Known mostly for overseeing beverage container and electronic-waste recycling, CalRecycle is also responsible for organics management, used tires, used motor oil, carpet, paint, mattresses, rigid plastic containers, newsprint, construction and demolition debris, medical sharps waste, household hazardous waste, and food-scrap composting.
CalRecycle provides training and ongoing support for Local Enforcement Agencies, which regulate and inspect California’s active and closed solid waste landfills, as well as materials recovery facilities, solid waste transfer stations, compost facilities, and more. The permitting and inspection processes help CalRecycle fulfill its mission to protect the health and safety of Californians and the environment.
Legislation that took effect in 2012 established a goal for California to source reduce, recycle, or compost 75 percent of its waste statewide by the year 2020. And beginning in July 2012, it also put in place required mandatory recycling for most California commercial businesses and multi-family residential buildings with five or more units. More recent laws enacted are designed to increase commercial organics recycling and curtail reliance on single-use plastic bags.
California has some of the nation’s most successful recycling and product-reuse programs, and as defined within the state’s Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 (IWMA), diverted an estimated 65 percent of its solid waste from landfills in 2013. 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,” which includes green waste used as alternative daily cover at landfills and solid waste used as fuel. Using that calculation, the recycling rate for 2013 was 50 percent. That is well above the U.S. EPA-calculated national recycling rate of 34.5 percent.
In 2013, Californians sent about 30 million tons of solid waste to landfills, which translates to a per capita waste disposal of 4.4 pounds per person per day. That’s among the lowest disposal rates since the state began tracking annual waste disposal data in 1989, when the disposal rate was more than 8 pounds per person per day. (The national waste generation rate in 2012 was 4.4 pounds per person per day, according to U.S. EPA.)
CalRecycle was created Jan. 1, 2010, through legislation merging the programs of the former California Integrated Waste Management Board, which was disbanded Dec. 31, 2009, and the beverage container recycling program that was previously managed by the California Department of Conservation.
The Integrated Waste Management Board was created as part of the IWMA, commonly referred to by its legislative moniker, AB 939 (Assembly Bill 939), which also established California’s jurisdiction waste diversion requirements. It was preceded by the part-time Solid Waste Management Board, which was created in 1972 to exercise broad authorities, including permitting and enforcement oversight of waste handling facilities. Preceding AB 939 the board – and the state’s – focus was primarily on managing the disposal of waste in landfills; AB 939 ushered a new period of sustainability in California that continues to this day, with a premium on waste prevention and reuse of discards to reduce the volume of material disposed of in landfills.
At the time of AB 939’s enactment, California was only diverting about 10 percent of its discards from landfills. In the years since, behavior change, recycling infrastructure expansion, market-based opportunities and subsequent laws to incentivize recycling, have fueled dramatic progress and made California’s program a national model.
Perhaps the most consumer-facing aspect of CalRecycle’s mission is the state’s Beverage Container Recycling Program, established by enactment in 1986 of Assembly Bill 2020, often referred to as the state’s “bottle bill.” The law incentivizes the collection and recycling of aluminum, plastic, and glass beverage containers through California Redemption Value (CRV), a fee paid at the point of purchase and refundable when empty containers are taken to any of more than 2,000 CalRecycle-certified redemption centers statewide. CRV is 5 cents on containers less than 24 ounces, 10 cents on containers 24 ounces or larger. Most beverages are included in the program, with the notable exceptions of milk, wine, distilled spirits, medical foods, infant formula, 100 percent vegetable juice in containers larger than 16 ounces, and 100 percent fruit juice in containers 46 ounces or larger. At present, some 20 billion bottles and cans sold in California each year are subject to CRV, and more than 80 percent of them have typically been returned for recycling in recent years. More than 300 billion beverage containers have been returned for recycling since the program’s inception.
CalRecycle has a budget of approximately $1.4 billion, including the $1.1 billion Beverage Container Recycling Fund, and receives no money from the state’s tax dollar-supported General Fund. Other funding comes from recycling fees on new electronics, tires, and used oil, and disposal fees charged by landfills. Much of this money is returned to the economy through payments and grants to industry and local jurisdictions in support of waste reduction, recycling, and safe disposal efforts, and the remainder covers CalRecycle’s annual operating budget.
Another important CalRecycle mission is environmental education. The department’s Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI), managed by the department’s Office of Education and the Environment, fosters environmental literacy among California K-12 students by providing educators with the necessary tools, resources, and training to teach academic standards through an environmental lens. EEI was signed into law in 2003 and mandated the creation of a standards-based curriculum to bring education about the environment into California’s K-12 schools. The EEI curriculum was approved by the State Board of Education in 2010 and supports Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. All 85 science and history/social science units are available for free online at www.CaliforniaEEI.org.