California’s recycling rate fell to 40% in 2021 even as organic waste disposal declined, says CalRecycle

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According to preliminary data released Tuesday by CalRecycle, California’s statewide recycling rate declined in 2021, and Californians disposed of more trash than the year before.

California produced 76.7 million tons of material in 2021, slightly less than 2020, according to a press release. Of this, about 46 million tons were disposed of, compared to 44.9 million tons in 2020. The state recycled 30.7 million tons in 2021, bringing the recycling rate down to 40% from 42% in 2020. The agency expects to publish its final annual report in December.

Recent passage of new recycling and waste diversion laws should help improve those numbers in the years to come, said CalRecycle director Rachel Machi Wagoner in an interview on America Recycles Day. Additional funding for infrastructure and cylinder billing improvements and general waste reduction strategies are also on deck, she said.

machi Waggoner declined to comment on what may have contributed to lower recycling rates in 2021, saying it was a “conjecture,” but said the state’s focus is on improving all aspects of the waste and recycling system and creating one reliable circular economy.

“It’s very important to me that we get that [disposal] Reduce numbers and work across the board on organic products, recyclable goods and things that aren’t recyclable,” she said. “We will review what we need to do in terms of changes in our system.”

California is in the midst of working toward ambitious waste reduction and recycling goals that require government investments and programs, Waggoner said. It aims to Reducing organic waste disposal 75% by 2025. Meanwhile, California’s target for recycling is 75%.

According to highlights provided by CalRecycle from the state’s waste characterization study, Californians recently reduced the tonnage of organic matter they disposed of — about 11.3 million tons in 2021, compared to nearly 13.4 million tons when the state Study last conducted in 2018.

However, according to the report, more plastic is being discarded than in 2018. Around 5.45 million tonnes were discarded in 2021, compared to 4.52 million in 2018.

The state passed a lengthy list of recycling and waste diversion laws this year, which CalRecycle touted as a package of “unprecedented circular economy reforms.” That includes SB 54a bill on extended producer responsibility for packaging that is said to be the largest in the country.

Lawmakers also passed several updates to the state’s bottle law, including one Adding wine and spirits Bottles that proponents say can help increase overall recycling rates. However, Waggoner said more needs to be done to provide places for containers to be dropped off.

“Consumer frustration in certain parts of the state is that they don’t have access to this program, so our goal is to have 100% access statewide,” she said.

The state legislature recently approved $391 million over three years to expand the program. This includes elements such as market development strategies, grants for the collection and recycling of used glass, and funding for the installation of reverse vending machines, she said.

Wagoner said attendees at recent public gatherings have also called for more funding and resources for infrastructure for beverage containers and other recycled materials, as well as organic products. The waste and recycling industry will play an important role in helping the state make improvements, she said.

“We want to highlight new sorting and composting or co-digestion technologies,” she said. “Partnerships are absolutely critical and we’re really looking for the waste industry to engage with the department in creative problem-solving on this issue.”

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