In 2017, California landfilled or exported for landfill 37.8 million tons. To calculate California’s recycling rate we add an additional 6.6 million tons of “disposal-related” materials, such as alternative daily cover, for a total of 44.4 million tons disposed. With California’s population at 39.5 million residents, this results in a per resident disposal rate of 6.2 pounds/resident/day calculated using AB 341’s measurement system and a recycling rate of 42 percent.
California’s 2017 recycling rate of 42 percent is considerably less than the 75 percent recycling rate the state would like to achieve by 2020. The state’s waste management system is facing some major challenges. Residents and businesses are generating and disposing of more material every year, driven by the economic recovery since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. It is no longer viable to rely on export markets as a primary strategy to meet California’s recycling goals. With the volatility of international markets for recyclable materials, California’s exported recyclables have decreased by almost 2 million tons, or about 11 percent, in the last three years. CalRecycle is exploring a variety of new ways to decrease disposal including: decoupling generation and disposal from economic growth, increasing source reduction to shrink waste generation, improving recyclability of materials in California’s waste stream, managing products and packaging that are difficult to recycle, and building sustainable domestic markets. CalRecycle also calculated California’s statewide per capita disposal using SB 1016’s measurement system, which does not include “disposal-related” tonnages as disposal. Under this system, California had a per resident disposal rate of 5.2 pounds/resident/day and a “diversion rate equivalent” of 58 percent. The 2017 per employee disposal rate was 11.9 pounds/employee/day, and the per employee “diversion rate equivalent” was at 62 percent. On February 19, 2019 California’s per capita disposal, diversion, and recycling rates for calendar year 2017 were presented at the CalRecycle public meeting. More detailed information on the per capita disposal rate and the statewide recycling rate can be found in the State of Disposal and Recycling Report for Calendar Year 2017 .