New data from California shows the state's recycling rate is actually declining as a monumental reuse goal looms in the not-to-distant future.
The state has a recycling goal of 75 percent by 2020, but saw its recycling rate drop to 47 percent last year, according to new data from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. That's a decrease of 3 percent from both 2014 and 2013.
Californians Against Waste, a non-profit group, is calling for more state action to reverse the trend, saying the state's recycling future at a “crossroads.”
This is the first time since 2010 that the state's recycling rate fell below 50 percent, the group said.
The state's recycling rate is different that its diversion rate, which stood at 63 percent for 2015, CalRecycle said.
While the recycling rate involves materials that are source-reduced, recycled or composted, a broader diversion rate also credits materials used for fuel, landfill cover and roads to be counted in that percentage. And while the recycling rate is a goal, California has a law requiring a 50-percent diversion rate.
News of the lower recycling rate comes as hundreds of recycling centers around the state have closed over the past year as the economics of recycling have been turned on its ear in California.
RePlanet, which closed nearly 200 recycling centers itself earlier this year, said the state reduced fees it pays to recycling centers to handle all those plastic bottles and other containers. Plunging commodity prices for PET as well as aluminum also put a squeeze on recycling centers when they went to sell the containers they collected.
“It was definitely disappointing to see this drop in recycling rate. Seeing that we only have four more years to reach this recycling goal, it seems like we're headed in the wrong direction,” said Teresa Bui, a legislative and policy analyst with Californians Against Waste.
A key factor, she agreed, has been the drop in commodity prices.
“Recyclers across all industries are hurting,” Bui said. “The low commodity prices for paper, plastic and metals are all driven by low oil prices. It's cheaper to by virgin materials to make new PET bottles than purchase recycled PET.”
Her group is calling for greater state attention and investment as well as updated regulations to put recycling back on track in California.
Economic growth in the state in recent years also means the generation of trash continues to grow, resulting in higher amounts of that material heading to landfill disposal instead of being recycled, CalRecycle said.