Integrated Waste Management Board Achieves California’s AB 32 Objectives

Margo Reid Brown

Charged with overseeing the reduction and reuse of waste in California, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) will be a critical player in the AB 32 implementation process. In order to detail CIWMB’s recent history of success in meeting AB 939 targets and as well as early directives regarding AB 32 objectives, VerdeXchange News was pleased to speak with CIWMB Chair Margo Reid Brown.

VerdeX: What is the mission of the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB)?

Brown: The California Integrated Waste Management Board’s mission is to reduce the materials that we consume from the environment and to recycle and reuse what we do consume. Our mission is waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. In particular, we’re very proud of the contributions that we have made thus far in the fight against global warming. In AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, we are the first agency to achieve our first objective: the reduction of 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent through diversion of waste from landfills, which is a big number and a great accomplishment. It lays a great foundation for what we’re trying to do, which is reducing waste and eventually achieving zero waste here in California.

VerdeX: California’s AB 32 and AB 939 are two laws that apply to the Integrated Waste Management Board’s strategic mission. What actions have the board taken regarding waste diversion and reduction as a result of such legislation?

Brown: Assembly Bill 939, signed by Governor Deukmejian in 1989, created the CIWMB. That laid the foundation and set in motion an infrastructure for recycling in the state. It mandated each local jurisdiction to divert 50 percent of their waste from the landfills through recycling programs and implementation of programs to divert waste. The use of recycling bins started when 939 passed. We started with three-bin collection, and then we moved to single-stream recycling, where you can put all your recyclables in one bin. Communities really stepped up.

That got us to our first objective in Assembly Bill 32, which was 50 percent waste reduction throughout the state. We’ve seen a real behavior change among Californians, looking at recycling as part of their normal, everyday behavior, not just at home but in their workplace, where they recreate, and where they go for social activities. There has really been a sea change in California, and we’re now very excited to say that California has achieved a 54 percent recycling rate statewide, which leads the nation taking the magnitude of our state into account.

VerdeX: How have local jurisdictions responded to new laws and regulations? Los Angeles, for example, now recycles about 72 percent of its waste. Is that the standard? Is zero waste possible?

Brown: Each area of the state is unique and different. They all have different programs that they implement, depending on where they are in the state, the type of waste that’s generated by their customers. What we look at is program implementation. Responsible jurisdictions have really made significant changes in their consumer and customer behavior.

For instance, San Francisco is one of many jurisdictions that have green waste collection at the curb that goes to composting facilities. Some of the programs are more costly to implement, so some jurisdictions can’t afford to implement the same programs that others have implemented. It’s really region-by-region, how programs are evaluated and what programs are effective for that jurisdiction. That’s what we do: we help jurisdictions address their waste needs and their program implementation to get them to zero waste.

There are many communities—San Francisco, San Jose, and some in Southern California—that have adopted zero waste goals. They’re aggressively pursuing programs to get to zero waste.

VerdeX: Could you elaborate on the directives issued by the CIWMB to implement California’s AB 32 and AB 939?

Brown: We adopted a set of strategic directives to bring focus and priority to implementation of programs here at CIWMB. That is not to say that any mandated programs that CIWMB carries out are not a priority, but we really wanted to focus and integrate AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions act, into our entire framework of what we do as part of AB 939.

That total integration has led the CIWMB to adopt a strategic directive, for instance, to reduce organic material in our waste stream by 50 percent by the year 2020. About 33 percent of what’s disposed in the landfills is still comprised of compostable organic material that is highly recyclable. We’re talking about green waste and food waste, which is the number one component of our waste stream. A lot of jurisdictions are looking to implement programs to help divert some of those recyclable materials out of the landfills to a higher and better use.

We have focused on marketing for the reduction of tires that still go into landfills. We’re looking at recycling materials such as oil, which gets to consumer behavior and reduction of oil change frequency. CIWMB is pushing to help develop the market for recycled content materials. We’re taking about taking traditionally disposed materials and putting them into new products for consumers. We’ve really integrated all the components of zero waste and high recycling into our strategic directive.

VerdeX: In this month’s issue of VerdeXchange News, Coby Skye of the L.A. County Department of Public Works shares in great detail how L.A. County is moving to employ waste-to-energy conversion technology. Is the Integrated Waste Management Board encouraging the use of such new technology?

Brown: CIWMB, as part of our mission of waste reduction, is looking at all the opportunities for technology to assist in that goal. Responsible technology advancement is occurring throughout the state; a lot of it is currently in demonstration mode. There’s great opportunity on the horizon for converting traditional waste materials into an energy or fuel product. It is not in the board’s jurisdiction to promote or advance those technologies, but we are monitoring the efficiency and safety of those technologies, and we can assist with demonstration and study of the options.

One of our strategic directives is for research and technology. We need to make that information available to each jurisdiction. Right now, the city of Los Angeles has gone significantly farther in the exploration of these opportunities, and there are more jurisdictions throughout the state that are looking at those options.

The nexus for the Energy Commission and us is figuring out who would regulate that type of technology. We look at waste reduction, and where materials are destined for waste is where we start and stop regulating.

We see that there’s a great opportunity on the horizon for the production of alternative fuels. The governor has his low-carbon fuel standard, and he has been promoting alternative fuels like cellulosic ethanol, which is traditionally produced from a biomass feedstock (plant waste). There’s not much technology currently out there that converts straight garbage—municipal solid waste—to fuel, but there are things like anaerobic digestion that hold great potential, which the board is looking at very closely.

VerdeX: This month’s newsletter also features an interview with Diane Wittenberg, now with the Climate Registry. Do the waste companies and operations that CIWMB oversees audit and report their carbon emissions? How does CIWMB monitor that reporting?

Brown: The California Integrated Waste Management Board has been working very closely with the Air Resources Board on implementation of the scoping plan. We’ve also been working with the California Climate Action Registry on the development of protocols for areas in the waste industry where waste companies can step up to the plate and participate in AB 32. There have been companies—Waste Management, in particular—that have done their carbon evaluation. Waste Management was an early member of the California Climate Action Registry, and they have actually done their entire inventory.

VerdeX: Is California law and policy on waste management being emulated else where in the United States and abroad? Are there economic opportunities created by such laws and regulations?

Brown: Recycling is a tremendous way for everybody to be able to contribute to mitigating global warming and reduce their carbon footprints. AB 939 has been duplicated across the country, with other states enacting similar laws and programs. We’re especially proud of the industries and jobs that have been created here because of recycling. Now, the effort to combat global warming has really caused California and other states to look at where the opportunities are for their citizenry. We’ve provided a great foundation, as well as growth in the effort for mitigating global warming.

VerdeX: Let’s close by referencing the latest report released by your board. It states that the majority of Californians can only cite recycling habits as a way to reduce landfill waste. Are there other ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle the state’s waste stream and carbon emissions? What is CIWMB currently promoting through its communications and public campaigns?

Brown: We do so much here at the board, and recycling has really taken on a life of its own. I think people traditionally view recycling as bottles and cans and newspapers, but if they start looking at the materials that they’re using in their everyday lives, they will see more and more opportunities for recycling. For example, we are dispelling the 3,000-mile oil change myth and encouraging consumers to change their oil less often, which will reduce the amount of waste oil generated. We also have a tire pressure campaign to teach people to check their tire pressure on a monthly basis, which reduces wear on tires and increases fuel efficiency. The e-waste program that CIWMB sponsors and regulates encourages people to take their electronic waste to proper recyclers where those materials are recycled and put back into the marketplace.

There are so many campaigns geared for public participation. There are a lot of things they can do that we’re working on. Recycling is part of our ethic, and it needs to be the same for reduce, reuse, and buying recycled. I think that’s an opportunity for people to start looking for things that are made of recycled materials. Buy recycled paper, for instance. When you do so, you’re closing the loop.

There’s a magnificent nexus that the California Integrated Waste Management Board is aggressively promoting and fostering: the nexus of waste reduction, pollution prevention, protection of our resources, and the curbing of global warming. And the great news is that all of us can do these things every day. We’re all recycling, but we need to recycle more. I think that’s what gets us to zero waste, and we have to applaud L.A. and San Francisco and the jurisdictions that have really stepped up and are leading the way to getting to a higher goal like 75 percent, or, in L.A.’s case, looking at zero landfills. We’re doing everything we can to assist them in their efforts and help them get to their goals. •••