Throw it in the blue bin

The new year breathed life into many new rules in California, including the Renters’ Right to Recycle Act, which gives more than 3 million apartment tenants statewide the opportunity to recycle items such as bottles, cans and newspapers. The law, which Gov. Jerry Brown inked in September, goes into effect this month and requires property owners with five or more units to provide recycling services that obey the state and local laws for collection.

In 2009, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill, because he said it brought apartment owners more economic burden, even though it came with the support of several organizations, such as the California Apartment Association.

“At the end of the day, it’s the renters who need to throw those cans and bottles in the right bins,” said Eric Wiegers, CAA spokesman. “This is just the beginning. A lot of apartment communities have been recycling for years already.”

Nearly 70 percent of Californians who live in single-family homes can recycle with two receptacles—one for trash, the other for recyclables. In Sacramento, the county municipal services collects the trash and recyclables, while private companies, such as Waste Management, collect trash for apartment buildings.

For the more than 7 million people living in apartments and other residential facilities throughout the state, however, recycling receptacles are usually not present, forcing renters to mix the items such as cardboard, glass and soda cans in with garbage.

Though the new law requires apartment owners to provide recycling services, there are still some exceptions.

If owners do not have enough space for recycling containers, then they have to get certification from their solid-waste contractor stating there is not adequate space for recycling. The certification can be valid for five years.

With the weakened economy, some owners may not be able to afford to place recycling containers on the property, so they could apply for financial hardship, also lasting up to five years. To prove financial hardship, the cost of adding recycling services to solid-waste services must be 30 percent higher than the cost of providing the solid-waste services alone.

Because of the potentially high costs in relation to the number of units, CAA advocated for the law to apply to residential buildings with five or more units, meaning buildings with three or four units do not have to adhere to the law. Duplexes are treated as single-family homes, so their recyclables are picked up by the county.

Owners who originally did not have garbage collection on the property do not have to provide recycling containers.

In 2010, the Census Bureau reported 32 percent of the more than 190,000 housing units in Sacramento were in multifamily buildings, so more than 60,000 units most likely did not have recycling services. Sacramento County Municipal Services Agency collects trash and recyclables from 155,000 customers, so more than 300,000 city residents either voluntarily found a way to recycle or did not recycle at all.

More than 60 percent of the materials in California that end up in the landfills can be composted or recycled. If the amount of waste were recycled, composted or recovered, it would equal the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from 5 million passenger vehicles per year.