How To Get There > Recycling Policies > Mandatory Recycling: California, USA

Mandatory Recycling: California, USA


The state of California requires all businesses, apartment complexes and government entities to recycle as one of the first actions under the state’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Action(s) Taken

  • Recycling Policies




The state of California requires all businesses, apartment complexes and government entities to recycle as one of the first actions under the state’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Under the state’s climate action plan, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents by 2020. This will be achieved by diverting an additional 2 to 3 million tons of materials from the business sector by 2020 and beyond. The mandatory recycling law was prioritized as an early action item under the state plan. This law also raises the diversion goal for California to 75% by 2020, up from its previous goal of 50% by 2000. The stated goal of the regulation is to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting commercial solid waste to recycling efforts, and to expand the opportunity for additional recycling services and recycling manufacturing facilities in California.” About 250,000 businesses and 220,000 multi-family dwellings are affected by this statute, accounting for about 75% of the commercial waste generated in California.

Overview of Recycling Requirements

All businesses, apartment complexes and government entities are required to recycle. The law defines business as “any commercial or public entity that generates four or more cubic yards of commercial solid waste per week, including but not limited to, a firm, partnership, proprietorship, joint-stock company, corporation, or association that is organized as a for-profit or non-profit entity, strip mall (e.g. property complex containing two or more commercial entities), industrial facility, school, school district, California State University, community colleges, University of California, special district or a federal, state, local, regional agency or facility.” The law applies to apartment communities with five or more units, regardless of the amount of waste generated.

Businesses are not required to recycle specific materials or amounts of materials under the regulation. This was left open in order to give jurisdictions, businesses, and service providers greater flexibility in determining the most cost-effective approach(es) to commercial recycling.

Businesses can meet the requirements in two ways:

  • Separate recyclable materials from their trash and either subscribe to a recycling collection service or self-haul their materials for recycling
  • Subscribe to a recycling service that includes mixed waste processing to separate recyclables from waste that yields diversion results comparable to source separation.

*The term “comparable” has been a contentious issue in the regulation and remains undefined.

Implementation and Enforcement

The state contracted with the Institute for Local Government to develop a sample commercial recycling ordinance, sample outreach and education flyer, examples of local commercial recycling programs, webinars and other resources to help local officials increase commercial recycling in their communities.

Each municipality must create an education and outreach program to explain and promote the mandatory recycling regulation, and must monitor businesses that are not recycling and inform them about the law. Municipalities report back to the state every year on these efforts and any enforcement measures taken.  Jurisdictions are expected to know and track how many businesses are located in the area, how many are affected by the state law, how many businesses are recycling, and how many businesses received outreach, education, and monitoring.

Municipalities are not required to enforce the law but may choose to do so. Cities and counties may also enact their own mandatory recycling ordinance or other more prescriptive policies but are not required to do so.

California will be monitoring the effectiveness of the regulation through statewide waste characterization studies in 2014 and 2019. The state will also be reviewing implementation plans from communities as part of their previous monitoring of recycling programs under state law AB939.


State Law: Mandatory Recycling for Businesses in California

Brochure: “Businesses going green with mandatory recycling”

Cost Study on Commercial Recycling in California

More Information

Sample Commercial Recycling Ordinance

Commercial Climate Calculator

California Climate Change Plan Supporting Mandatory Recycling

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