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Recycling and Reuse: Fueling Economic Recovery

s part of a holistic approach to addressing climate change with respect to waste, and supporting members in expressed areas for local economic growth, MBEP and San Benito County Integrated Waste Management Regional Agency (SBCIWM), a regional agency comprised of three member jurisdictions, identified an opportunity area to reactivate a CalRecycle initiative, the Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ) program. The RMDZ program combines recycling with economic development to fuel new businesses, expand existing ones, create jobs, and divert waste from landfills. The program provides attractive loans, technical assistance, and free product marketing to businesses that use materials from the waste stream to manufacture their products and are located in zones identified by the state that covers roughly 88,000 square miles of California from the Oregon border to San Diego. All three Monterey Bay counties are within those zones. 

Recycling and reuse was a top area of interest for MBEP members who completed a climate change survey earlier this year. There’s substantial room for improvement to expand the triple-bottom benefits of the RMDZ program and stimulate local economic growth while meeting state diversion mandates (i.e. AB 939, AB 341, AB 1826, and SB 1383), especially with the recent increase in single-use plastics as a safety measure against COVID-19. Achieving California’s waste diversion goals will require the recycling, composting and/or source-reduction of an additional 23.5 million tons of recyclables annually, which could add more than 100,000 new jobs in manufacturing, collection and processing industries alone based on state legislation. 

SBCIWM and MBEP, alongside the initiative’s Central Coast RMDZ zone administrators, will leverage their county and regionwide network to revive the program in San Benito County, learn from and share ideas with other cities and counties in the region, and get businesses the resources and guidance they need to increase their bottom line while preserving our environment and creating new jobs. The California Recycling Economic Information Study reveals how diversion creates twice as many jobs, double the income, and twice the sales per ton of material than disposal does. Providing incentives to businesses in our region that manufacture products using materials

that would normally end up at the landfill is an excellent opportunity to generate taxable income. Several studies indicate that recycling and recovery programs can generate almost $4 billion in taxable income, almost $5 billion in taxable sales, and more than $10 billion in new products and services.

The SBCIWM knows cost-effective benefits result from partnerships and investments in waste reduction strategies. They have been working closely with the CA Green Business Network on green business resources, programming and events, and they recently developed a new Franchise Agreement for Recyclables, Organics, and Solid Waste Collection Services and managed an RFP process. Recology was awarded the agreement through the competitive procurement process. The franchise agreement required new and improved recycling programs to meet state waste diversion mandates. All California jurisdictions are required to implement organics recycling programs, business/residential recycling programs and meet mandatory diversion from landfill or face potential fines. The new agreement requires specific technical assistance and emphasizes customer education to maximize participation in diversion services and reduce contamination. The agreement creates a sense of excitement around reducing, reusing and recycling, and education of customers on new services. Within the first year, their overall diversion rate increased by 50% from a baseline of 28% across all customer segments in the third quarter of 2018 to 42% by the end of 2019. Improved outreach and education to their businesses and residents and the collection of organics are some reasons why they have seen such a high diversion rate increase. 

Together, we can continue to change the “take, make, waste” paradigm to one that represents a more circular system. Our current linear economy is proving to be less and less sustainable, with its consequences becoming increasingly evident. Learn more about CalRecycle’s Central Coast Recycling Market Development Zone initiative, and connect with MBEP and San Benito County on these efforts at agauer@mbep.biz.  

Pictured, recycled glass tiles from FireClay Tile of Aromas, one of the local companies showcased in the Recycled-Content Product Manufacturers (RCPM) directory. Photo courtesy of FireClay Tile.