California Recycling Levels Fall Below 50% for First Time in Years

California’s overall recycling rate fell to 47 percent in 2015, below the 50 percent or better rates achieved since 2010, and far short of the 75 percent goal set by the legislature for 2020. That is a decrease of 3 percent from both 2014 and 2013, according to newly-released data from California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).


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.

Teresa Bui, a legislative and policy analyst with Californians Against Waste, said “Recyclers across all industries are hurting. 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.” Ironically, economic growth in the state burdens the system with more waste generation resulting in higher amounts of material heading to the landfill instead of being recycled.


California Recycling Levels Fall Below 50% for First Time in Years

California’s overall recycling rate fell to 47 percent in 2015, below the 50 percent or better rates achieved since 2010, and far short of the 75 percent goal set by the legislature for 2020.

The newly-released data from California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) shows that disposal amounts increased by 2 million tons in 2015 compared to 2014, resulting in more waste, higher costs and an additional 200,000 tons of direct greenhouse gas emissions.

“At a time when Governor Brown and State Policy Makers are receiving deserved recognition for the adoption of many Nation-leading policies to reduce pollution and protect the environment, the downturn in the State’s recycling efforts stands out as an embarrassing blemish,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of the environmental group Californians Against Waste.

Contributing to the recycling drop are low commodity prices, closed recycling centers and cheap disposal alternatives. The low commodity prices for paper, plastics and metals are driven by low oil prices, which in turn makes processing and producing virgin materials from natural resources appear to be cheaper.

Low commodity prices have resulted in the closure of more than 662 recycling centers in California over the last 12 months, with potentially hundreds more closing after July 1, unless urgency legislation is enacted to restore recycler reimbursements to 2015 levels.

In addition to low commodity prices, recyclers and composter must also compete with artificially low priced disposal options that fail to incorporate their true environmental and regulatory costs.

While new policies have been adopted in an effort to increase recycling (including requirements for businesses to recycle and compost), sporadic enforcement, under investment and slow implementation have undermined program effectiveness and failed to offset increased consumer consumption of disposables.

“It’s been more than a quarter century since California policy makers committed to cutting waste disposal in half, and for most of that period consumer support, manufacturer responsibility, and targeted investment all contributed to achieve 50 percent or better recycling levels,” said Murray.

“But increased fracking and continued taxpayer subsidies for non-renewables and cheap disposal have created and uneven playing field for market-based recycling and composting efforts,” said Murray.

“California’s recycling future is at a crossroads. Greater attention and investment, and updated regulatory scheme is needed to ensure that the California does not backslide on the great environmental and economic strides that have been made to conserve and recycle finite resources.

“It is time for Governor Brown and the legislature to come together to develop a framework that puts California back on the path to sustainable materials management. We have over a quarter century of experience to help us identify which policies and programs have proven successful in the past and should be replicated or expanded.

“We need to ensure that that the economic incentives and regulatory requirements support the growth of recycling, composting, and recycled material-based manufacturing or suffer the consequences increased disposal and taxpayer costs, and a degraded environment.”

Californians Against Waste is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving resources, preventing pollution and protecting the environment through the development, promotion and implementation of waste reduction and recycling policies and programs.

Contact: Brendan Ward
(916) 443-5422

Source: CalRecycles and WIH Resource Group, Inc

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Alternative Fuels In Refuse Collection Vehicles (CNG and LNG) – WIH Resource Group

About the White Paper

The White Paper is developed by WIH Resource Group (WIH) and was created from industry research and analysis of the current use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in refuse (municipal solid waste – MSW) collection vehicles by both public sector agencies and private sector service providers throughout the United States.  The waste management industry’s interest in this information is to assess the potential for utilizing CNG fueled refuse collection vehicles in their own organizations or subcontracted solid waste and recycling collection vehicles and operations. 

CNG Garbage Truck

CNG Fueled Refuse Collection Truck

 The surveys and interviews conducted by WIH’s Staff with various cities and other private sector companies that currently utilize and operate CNG fleets, centered on securing industry experience, data and knowledge on the following key items of interest to the waste management industry, both public and private sectors:

  •  CNG Engine reliability;
  • Optimal CNG engine type (manufacturer)
  • Average age of CNG fueled fleets & life expectancy of CNG fueled fleets;
  • Average R&M and operational costs of CNG fueled fleets;
  • Determination of the overall reliability of CNG fueling systems;
  • Assessment of the legal payload impacts, i.e. contrasting standard diesel collection vehicle payloads to that of CNG fueled trucks (CNG fueled vehicles have heavier tare weights due to the need for larger fuel tanks), including transportation routing cost impacts to and from disposal sites;
  • Review of the available grant funding from the State, EPA and Federal agencies to assist in capital costs of fleet acquisition and ongoing operating costs;
  • Assessment of the effects of CNG fuels and fueling in cold winter climates and elevation changes which require full trucks to transport up inclines.

 Summary of Table of Contents

The White Paper is organized into five sections, plus Appendices.  The sections of the White Paper are listed below.

n   Section 1 – Introduction and Project Approach

n   Section 2 – Refuse Collection Vehicles

n   Section 3 – Industry Research and Interviews

n   Section 4 – Natural Gas and Compressed Natural Gas

n   Section 5 – Evaluation of Key Issues and Recommendations

n   Appendices

 White Paper Highlights by Section

 Section One

WIH Resource Group

WIH Resource Group

In August 2008, a U.S. City’s Public Works Department, Solid Waste Programs Division, retained the services of WIH Resource Group (WIH) to assist their jurisdiction in researching the use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fuel as an alternative to traditional diesel fuel in its contracted residential refuse and recycling collection vehicles currently operated under contract by private third party solid waste and recycling collections service provider.

 Section Two

In the United States approximately 155,000 refuse trucks operate and burn approximately 1.2 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year, releasing almost 27 billion pounds of the greenhouse gas, CO2. Every gallon of diesel fuel burnt emits more than 22 pounds of CO2. In addition to contributing to global climate change, diesel-fueled trash trucks are one of the most concentrated sources of health-threatening air pollution in virtually all cities. 

 Section Three

CNG is natural gas that has been compressed into a high-pressure container for transportation. Since the 1960s, CNG has become a vehicle fuel alternative to oil-based gasoline and diesel fuel. The International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles estimates that more than one million vehicles worldwide operate on CNG.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Fuel Storage Cylinders

In the United States more than 1,300 CNG refueling stations are available. The total includes public service stations and private depot-based refueling stations intended to serve fleets.  Several companies provide CNG/LNG refueling infrastructure to fleets on a component or turnkey basis.

Section Four

 The WIH Resource Group project team conducted a series of interviews and meetings with individuals that are subject matter experts (SMEs) from public agencies, private sector solid waste collection companies and CNG industry suppliers of both fuel and engines.

 The average price of natural gas is up to $1.00 less per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) and refuse truck operators can get fixed-price, multi-year natural gas fueling contracts from CNG and NG fuel suppliers like Clean Energy.

 The use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign crude oil. In 2005, 64% of the crude oil used in the United States was imported from foreign sources other than Canada. By comparison, in 2005, an estimated 97% of the natural gas used in the United States was supplied from the United States and Canada, making it less vulnerable to foreign supply disruption and price volatility.

 Prior to the interviews, each organization was provided a list of the issues that it would be asked about in its interview. A list of the issues that were discussed during these interviews is provided in Table 1.

Table 1 – Private Sector Companies and Public Agencies Interview Questions

1. CNG Engine Reliability Compared to Diesel Engines
2. Optimal Engine Manufacturer
3. Average Age of CNG & Life Expectancy
4. Average R&M and operational costs of CNG fueled fleets
5. Overall Reliability of CNG Fueling Systems
6. Legal Payload Impacts – CNG verses Diesel-powered vehicles
7. Grant Funding and Tax incentives
8. Effects of CNG fuels and fueling in cold weather climates and elevation changes

Section Five

CNG Fueled Garbage Truck at the Golden Gate Bridge

The CNG market is more stable than the gasoline market. CNG generally costs 15 to 40 percent less than gasoline or diesel. CNG requires more frequent refueling, however, because it contains only about a quarter of the energy by volume of gasoline. In addition, CNG vehicles cost between $1,500 and $3,500 annually more than their diesel-powered counterparts. This is primarily due to the higher cost of the fuel cylinders. As the popularity and production of CNG fuel refuse collection vehicles continues to increases, CNG vehicle costs are decreasing.

Once new natural gas trucks are in service, their operators stand to save money. Not only has the price of natural gas been significantly lower than that of diesel fuel for many years (approximately $.50 per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) cheaper), but an excise tax credit available under the Energy Policy Act (2005) has made this fuel an even better bargain. Estimated savings for new 20 compressed natural gas trucks for the City’s Solid Waste Division is contemplating purchasing, may produce fuel savings of more than $157,894 per year over diesel fuel.


Appendix A – Public and Private Sector Interviews

Appendix B – Federal Tax Credit Fact Sheet

Appendix C – Cummins Westport, Inc. ISL-G Engine Specifications

Appendix D – Natural Gas Vehicles in the World 2007

Appendix E – U.S. Natural Gas Distribution Pipeline Network

Appendix F – Alternative Fuel Resources

Appendix G – Cummins Westport Press Release – Tax Credits

Bob Wallace

About The Author:  Bob Wallace, Principal and Vice President of Client Solutions, WIH Resource Group, Inc. (WIH) and Waste Savings, Inc. (WSI), former Boardmember SWANA ~ State of Arizona Chapter (Solid Waste Association of North America), APWA (American Public Works) ~ National Solid Waste Rate Setting Advisory Committee and Member of WASTEC (Waste Equipment Technology Association) NSWMA ~ Phoenix, Arizona USA. (

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Fuel Use in Refuse Collection Vehicles Industry White Paper
Available for Purchasing:  Entire 50-plus page report and Appendices:

$299.00 US Funds – Visa and Mastercard Accepted.

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Source:  WIH Resource Group

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