CIWMB: A truly integrated board is not a waste

With overflowing landfills and a garbage barge lost at sea, the California Integrated Waste Management Board was created in 1989 to divert 50 percent of garbage from landfills by the year 2000, and to ensure safe landfill capacity. Twenty years later, having successfully achieved a 58 percent recycling rate in 2007 and securing 35 years of safe permitted landfill capacity, the Board is on the chopping block against a back drop of a $41 billion state budget shortfall, with a false perception that the Board members are just plum appointees. The Governor wants to “Blow Up the Boxes”, and editorials through-put California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, are calling for the elimination of this ‘obscure’ Board.

Within this budget crisis, the Governor sees opportunity to make government more efficient, and is giving new life to some of the recommendations of the California Performance Review that was published in 2004. A more modest version is being promoted today, recommending consolidating and realigning recycling, including the elimination of the Board into a Department. The Board structure was designed to deliver good government with a blend of transparent state oversight and local control on permits and recycling. A full-time independent Board with the open stakeholder public process for all of their activity maintains a thoughtful public participation process for the general public, local government, environmentalists, and industry advocates, where a Department that is staff-driven is not connected to the realities of the world.

The unheralded Board has cleaned up 1,000 old burn dumps and illegal dump sites and ensured proper funding for landfill post closure maintenance. The Board increased the diversion of used tires to 74 percent and managed the used oil recycling program. The Board has successfully regulated the recycling of 500 million pounds of electronic waste and has funded over $3 million per year in household hazardous grants to local governments. The Board has loaned over $100 million dollars to 120 recycling enterprises and has provided over $41 million in grants to 600 entities for education and market development. The Board has enforced minimum recycled-content laws on plastic containers and newspapers, and collaborated on ocean clean-up programs to Keep California Beautiful! On climate change issues, the Board has accelerated the landfill gas capture program and passed policies to divert 50% of the methane-generating organic waste from landfill by 2020. The Board has been the leader in the state on green building standards, green procurement policies and promoting extended producer responsibility. This self-funded Board has maintained an entrepreneurial spirit, which is rare in government, to propel businesses to think green and inspire an industry to be green.

The landfill disposal amount in California has decreased from 42 million tons in 1990 to 36 million tons today as the population grew and business expanded. With the amount of disposal decreasing, so does the state fee of $1.40 per ton of waste disposed of in landfills, which in 2008 alone has already resulted in a savings of over $5 million in state fees, and millions more in local fees. Blowing up the boxes is projected to cut $2 to $3 million dollars per year in user fees, but may cost the state so much more in accountability and responsiveness to the green businesses that depend on an active entrepreneurial Board for market development and sustainability policies.

California’s recycling industry now accounts for 85,000 jobs. It generates $4 billion annually in salaries and wages, and produces $10 billion worth of goods and services annually. Recycling has become a viable, mainstream industry that is equivalent to the size of the motion picture industry in California, and is guided by the Board. As the economy suffers and jobs are either lost or outsourced, there need to be programs to create new jobs in California from our waste by-products. The adopted State Plan to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020 depends upon the production of green low carbon transportation fuels and green energy to drive California toward energy independence. These green energy products can be derived from the 36 million tons of solid waste still being disposed of today. The Board has already reduced the amount of garbage from 1990 levels, and is poised to implement the State Plan to assist in reducing greenhouse gases to 1990 levels while creating domestic green collar jobs.

The Board has been successful over the last 20 years and has transformed itself to be engaged in the larger mission of providing greenhouse gas reduction strategies using the 36 million tons of garbage for conversion into green energy products produced by emerging sustainable businesses in California. The Board’s open and transparent process, coupled with the vision to build upon today’s recycling facilities for tomorrows climate change solutions, needs to be preserved and not eliminated.

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