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February 3, 2012 > County adopts mandatory recycling and single-use bag ordinances

County adopts mandatory recycling and single-use bag ordinances

Submitted By Jeff Becerra

The Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA), known colloquially as StopWaste.Org, adopted two ordinances On January 25, 2012, to help the county achieve its long-term waste reduction goals. The first ordinance requires recycling of high market-value materials from larger businesses and multi-family properties. The second ordinance prohibits free distribution of single-use bags at check-out in stores that sell packaged food. The initiatives are designed to reduce waste and litter, stimulate the local economy and create jobs.

"Alameda County buries $100M of resources annually," said Gary Wolff, P.E., Ph.D., StopWaste.Org's Executive Director. "Increased recycling can contribute greatly to the local economy by tapping into what would otherwise be sent to landfills."

US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson recently touted the multiple benefits of high recycling levels, calling the practice a simple, low-tech approach to a cleaner environment, and a home-grown jobs program that would employ millions of Americans. Up to 1,500 new, local jobs are expected as a result of the Alameda County mandatory recycling ordinance.

In addition to economic benefits, recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly, which is why the State has adopted a mandatory recycling law to help implement its landmark climate change initiative (AB 32). The State law requires larger businesses (four cubic yards of garbage service per week and above) and multi-family properties of five units or more to obtain recycling service. Alameda County's mandatory recycling ordinance builds on the State's requirements by specifying which materials need to be recycled and by requiring an adequate level of recycling service be obtained.

The single-use bag ordinance will help reduce the number of bags going to landfill and decrease the problems caused by plastic bags at recycling processing centers and landfills. The ordinance bans single-use bags at check-out at retailers selling packaged food county-wide. Recycled content paper or reusable bags may be provided but only if the retailer charges a minimum price of $0.10 per bag.

Setting restrictions on single-use bag distribution will help local jurisdictions meet their storm water permit and litter control requirements at lower costs and reduce environmentally harmful trash in storm drains and creeks. Despite voluntary efforts to promote reusable bags county-wide for several years, plastic bags accounted for 9.6 percent of litter collected during coastal clean-up days (based on 2008 data) in Alameda County.

Both ordinances were identified as long-term waste reduction strategies in StopWaste.Org's 2010 Strategic Plan, which included a goal that by 2020 less than 10 percent of solid wastes going to landfill should be materials that are easily recycled or composted.

The ordinances are designed to capture the benefits of working together on a large scale while also preserving local control. Individual jurisdictions within the county are able to opt out of either ordinance by resolution of their governing board by March 2, 2012.

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