Mandated by AB 32, goal is to reduce waste by 58 percent

NORTH BAY – As part of California’s effort to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a goal has been set for 58 percent waste diversion, known as Mandatory Commercial Recycling, for businesses throughout the state.

As implementation looms – a final deadline has been set for Jan. 1, 2012 –   stakeholders and businesses have begun to consider the impact of such a program and how to meet compliance once the final legislation is shaped.

The Mandatory Commercial Recycling measure, part of Assembly Bill 32 passed in 2006, is designed to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of five million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. It will increase waste diversion from landfills beyond the previous state-mandated rate of 50 percent.

Much of the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been met with skepticism from businesses concerned with burdensome regulation or increased cost in waste diversion for companies that may not be well equipped to handle the new task.

But Kathi Olson, business development manager for FRG Waste Resources, a recycling and composting consultant company in Napa, said the new regulations aren’t that onerous and could ultimately be beneficial to a company’s bottom line.

“It shouldn’t be too hard,” she said of compliance. “The thing is, for a lot of companies, their focus isn’t trash, so they think they don’t have the time or wherewithal to divert resources.”

The commercial sector generates well over half of the solid waste in California, at 68 percent, according Statewide Waste Characterization data from 2008. Yet that sector is not directly subject to the requirements of another bill that attempted to divert waste from landfills – AB 939, the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989.

In order to achieve the 58 percent commercial recycling goal, an additional two million to three million tons of materials will need to be recycled from the commercial sector by 2020, according to the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, better known as CalRecycle.

The biggest obstacle for compliance on AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, is not financial burden but businesses making a conscious effort, Ms. Olson said, noting that the vast majority of FRG clients had little if any trouble in reaching a level that will be passable per the new law when it takes effect.

“Most or our companies are already at 70 percent,” she said. “It’s not a core-competency unless you’re a waste company, although I will say most companies we work with are progressive in waste management.”

Businesses would be wise, she added, to look more closely at the economic benefits, which could include reduced cost in transporting waste, among others.

“What a lot people throw away is a commodity that can be reused, like plastic and cardboard. It’s hard to do, but what a lot companies don’t understand is that their bills for hauling waste will decrease significantly. It’s a lack of information, and really importantly, we’re told it’s so hard to make our employees throw things in recycling, but it’s a matter of individual conscious-raising, and that’s what we do.”

But skeptics have said the cost of AB 32 will reach both businesses and households, while making California less competitive and hampering job growth.

Assembly Bill 23, a measure to suspend implementation of AB 32, gathered enough signatures to be put on the November ballot this year, and it would delay the law going into effect until California’s unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent or lower. The current unemployment rate, as of July, was at 12.8 percent.