Californians take pride in on our adherence to the three “Rs”: Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Recycling programs are available in every city, and the state has embraced “zero waste” as a guiding principle and goal for the future. According to the recently-abolished California Integrated Waste Management Board (once the state’s leading authority on recycling and waste reduction): “Zero waste is based on the concept that wasting resources is inefficient and that efficient use of our natural resources is what we should work to achieve. It requires that we maximize our existing recycling and reuse efforts, while ensuring that products are designed for the environment and have the potential to be repaired, reused, or recycled.” At the heart of this concept is that proper management of the state’s natural resources, and not waste management, is the best way to reduce waste sent to landfills.
In spite of important strides made to reduce waste, every Californian generates approximately 6 pounds each of trash per day, and we continue to throw away resources in the name of convenience to both the consumer and manufacturer of products. For example, Californians use over 19 billion plastic grocery bags every year, creating almost 150,000 tons of waste in landfills and uncollected trash, according to Californians Against Waste. Grocery bags and other plastic litter are also a major source of marine pollution.
Recycling is an important piece of the solution. In addition to saving natural resources and energy, recycling is a big business in California. It accounts for approximately 85,000 jobs and produces $10 billion in products and services per year.
Officially known as the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, "CalRecycle" is a new department within the California Natural Resources Agency and administers programs formerly managed by the Integrated Waste Management Board and Division of Recycling.
Example of action that helps Californians reduce waste: In 2005, the Governor signed AB 338 (Levine) requiring Caltrans to phase in the use of rubberized asphalt concrete, which is made from recycled tires. California generates 32 million waste tires annually; fortunately there is a perfect use for recycled tires: rubberized asphalt concrete used to build and repair streets and highways. Despite years of studies showing that the material lasts longer and has a lower life cycle cost than regular concrete, Caltrans and highway contractors had fought its use for years. AB 338 finally ensured that common sense was converted to public policy.
Example of action that hinders Californians from reducing their waste: In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger pledged to eliminate the California Integrated Waste Management board as a cost-cutting (and politically symbolic) measure. The waste board, which provided oversight of landfills and recycling programs, also provided valuable public oversight on decisions about environmental regulations. It was called by environmental champion Assemblymember Wes Chesbro, who served for a decade on the board, the “state's most successful environmental program.” But it was criticized by the governor as a patronage haven for former legislators (several of its current appointed members were former state Democratic lawmakers with stellar environmental credentials) and was abolished as of January 2010.