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

Mandatory Recycling: San Diego, California, USA

San Diego, California

Everyone in San Diego is required to recycle plastic, metal and glass bottles as well as paper, newspaper, and cardboard.

Action(s) Taken

  • Recycling Policies

Who's Affected

  • Households
  • Apartments
  • Businesses
  • Governments
  • Schools
  • Events



Year Enacted


Policy History

After many years of voluntary recycling programs, San Diego found its voluntary recycling efforts were not meeting its diversion goals and the city’s only landfill was scheduled to close by 2013. As a result, San Diego adopted a mandatory recycling policy for four primary reasons:

  • help to extend the life of the landfill
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • meet the state recycling requirements
  • increase the recycling of materials.

Thanks in part to the mandatory recycling policy, the landfill life has been extended until at least 2019.

Overview of Recycling Requirements

San Diego requires everyone in the city to recycle plastic and glass bottles and jars, paper, newspaper, metal containers and cardboard. This applies to all households, apartments, businesses, government agencies and schools, as well as special events.

Property owners are required to provide adequate and convenient recycling services, and to educate tenants about the program. The policy was implemented in phases over three years, starting first with households and large businesses.

Most residents and businesses must also recycle rigid plastics including clean food waste containers, jugs, tubs, trays, pots, buckets, and toys. Households and apartments that are serviced by a private hauler, rather than through city services, are exempt from this requirement but encouraged to recycle these materials.

The city can add new materials to the list of required recyclables for business properties serviced by a franchised hauler. New materials could include food waste, pallets and scrap metal as recycling markets develop.

Mandatory Recycling at Events

All community events in San Diego that require a permit must provide recycling containers to collect at least aluminum and metal cans, and glass and plastic bottles and jars.

Events must provide at least one recycling container for every trash container, and place them next to each other throughout the event. Each recycling bin must be clearly identified as a recycling container and labeled with the types of recyclable materials accepted.

Collected materials must be taken to a recycling facility. The city provides a list of containers that can be used for recycling at events as well as companies that will haul the recycling.


The city implemented the policy in phases beginning in 2008, focusing first on larger properties:

  • 2008: Affected all single family households, apartments with 100+ units, business properties of 20,000 square feet or more, and all special events
  • 2009: Affected all apartments with 50+ units, business properties of 10,000 sq. feet or more

2010: Affected all residential and business properties

Adequate and Convenient Recycling Services

San Diego’s policy has specific requirements to ensure recycling is adequate and convenient for all residents and tenants.

“Adequate” means each property must have at least a minimum level of recycling service:

  • Households: one recycling container of equal capacity to each trash container
  • Apartments with 50+ units and business buildings over 10,000 sq. ft.: 40% recycling to 60% trash
  • Smaller apartment and business buildings: 30% recycling to 70% trash

“Convenient” means recycling containers are located either at or next to each trash container or as close as possible, as well as in high pedestrian traffic areas. Recycling containers should also be the same size as the trash container at each location.

All recycling containers must be properly labeled and include a list of the materials that are accepted in the bin. Property owners must post a list of what is recyclable in the area where the recycling bins are stored.


The original city policy only applied to apartments and businesses that produced more than six cubic yards of waste per week. The threshold was lowered in 2012 to comply with California’s statewide law that required apartments and businesses to recycle. Businesses that produce more than four cubic yards of trash per week and multi-family properties with more than five units are now required to recycle under state law.

Businesses, institutions and apartments can apply for an exemption from the city depending on:

  • available markets for recyclable materials
  • available space for recycling containers
  • alternative recycling efforts
  • the amount and type of solid waste or recyclable materials generated


Property owners are required to educate tenants, at least once per year and upon move-in, about the recycling requirements. A letter/notice must be provided that includes:

  • The location of recycling containers
  • Types of recyclable materials that must be recycled
  • The responsibility of the tenant to recycle under the city’s Recycling Ordinance.

The city provides sample tenant education letters in both English and Spanish, as well as educational guidelines and signs for recycling bins.

San Diego has recognized local businesses leading the way on recycling for more than 20 years with its Waste Reduction Awards.


Recycling specialists are available to help set up recycling programs. If education and assistance have been offered and violations still occur, fines can be levied. Fines for noncompliance are $100-$1000 for residents, businesses or special events.

The city code compliance officer can inspect a property for violations and issue fines. During the inspection the officer can ask for:

  • Copies of all education materials (flyers, letters, signage, newsletters, etc.) given to tenants/guests.
  • Copy of hauler contract.
  • Tour of property to see all signage, containers, and education materials displayed.

Haulers must report to the city each year on the amount of materials recycled and disposed from each property. Properties that drop off their own recycling or use a non-certified hauler must report their own recycling and trash amounts to the city.


City of San Diego Recycling Ordinance

Guidelines for San Diego Recycling Containers and Signage for Collection

City of San Diego Recycling Brochure

San Diego Recycling Ordinance Step-by-Step Guide

San Diego Recycling Reporting Form

More Information

Recycling Ordinance for Special Events

San Diego Recycling Programs

KPBS article: “Recycling Now Mandatory for Everyone in San Diego

Voice of San Diego article: “City Attorney Proposes Mandatory Recycling Program

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