In January, Fresno tied with Huntington Beach for the city in California with the highest waste diversion rate. A decade ago Fresno could not meet the state's recycling requirements. In 2006, both cities had a 71 percent recycling rate, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board's data. Fresno's goal is to reach a 75 percent recycling rate by 2012.
Fresno streamlined its curbside recycling program. In 2000, Fresno introduced large blue bins so residents could deposit all recyclables in them, instead of the small green bins that required recyclables to be separated. On September 20, 2005, Fresno City Council adopted a Mandatory Recycling Ordinance which requires all property owners in the city to have recycling services. The penalties for not complying are as high as $10,000 a day.
The city contracts with a private company, Sunset Waste Systems. The city pays a small fee to collect recyclables so the company can sort and sell them. However, Fresno receives a share of the profits.
Profits from recycling have dropped because people are buying fewer products due to the recession. Fewer purchases translate into less paper, plastic, and bottles to recycle. What does help the recycling programs of Fresno and other California cities is the state requirement to recycle at least 50 percent of waste.
Huntington Beach's waste company, Rainbow Disposal, thinks both its new and proposed recycling programs will help it survive the recession. In May 2007, the company launched a new program that provided separate bins for trash, yard waste, and recyclables. The company also started using an automated trash collecting system.
Ron Shenkman, chairman of Rainbow Disposal, said, "The separate recycling bins are certainly helping on the diversion end of it," Shenkman said. "We are noticing an improvement."
Rainbow Disposal's proposed program would upgrade machines so 1,200 more tons of waste could be sorted a day. The program would also include converting some of the waste into fuels, mulch, and renewable energy.
In Berkeley, California, one of the places where municipal curbside recycling began, has seen a decrease in profits from its recycling program. Last fall, Berkeley received about $200 per ton for recyclables. The city is proposing a 20 percent fee increase because dumping in landfills is not an option for two reasons: it is bad for the environment, and the high cost of dumping in California landfills makes recycling more cost efficient.
Half-way across the country, the spokesperson for Houston's solid waste department defends raising fees. "Sometimes the only way people become conscientious about what goes into their garbage can... Recycling is a supplemental service, but we realize that if we cut recycling, it will have an impact on us with the garbage. They work hand in hand," said Marina Coryat.
Experts think the recycling industry will weather the economic crisis. The website, Career Path, listed seven recession-resistant industries. The environmental sector made the third spot, with waste management included in the category.
Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, Berkeley's contracted pickup service, said, "To throw them in a landfill or burn them in an incinerator is ridiculously wasteful. Eventually, there will be a demand for those materials. The market will rebound."
Bourque thinks the recycling industry will survive the recession because of its past decade of high profits. "It may take them a while to get through this economic downturn, but let's be real. These same businesses have been doing really well for the past decade."
Evan Edgar, a civil engineer and a regulatory advocate for the California Refuse Recycling Council, said "There is definitely a drop in trash and that is probably due to a bit more to the recession than it is to recycling. People aren't producing as much garbage because they're not buying as much."