Waste Reduction

What Is Waste Reduction ? 

Workers Sorting Waste on Site - CalGreen
Workers Sorting Waste on Site – CalRecycle

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines non-hazardous solid waste as any garbage or refuse, sludge from a wastewater treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semi-solid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations, and from community activities.  Waste reduction is the most cost-effective strategy of waste management because not creating waste avoids the cost of managing waste.  Waste reduction includes waste prevention, salvage, recycling, composting, and energy recovery.

Why Is Waste Reduction Regulated ?


The US recycled about 34% of the 251 million tons of its non-hazardous municipal solid waste stream in 2012 (garbage, packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, etc.).  This left 165 million tons that was buried in landfills.  The California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 created the Integrated Waste Management Board, now Cal Recycle, and a permitting requirement for jurisdictions, counties, or regional agencies to have either 15 years of landfill capacity or a plan to reduce the waste flow.  Since then, mandated state recycling requirements have increased.  The current requirement is 50%, although many local agencies have adopted higher levels (e.g., 75%).   The Public Resources Code 41750-41751 requires that jurisdictions have a Source Reduction and Recycling Plan, which contains Construction and Demolition Debris Reduction controls for assuring the salvaging, recycling, and composting of waste building materials such as lumber, drywall, metals, brick, concrete, carpet, plastic, pipe, soil, paper, cardboard, and vegetation, which make-up 29% of the waste stream statewide.  Jurisdictions can be fined by Cal Recycle for failing to comply with Compliance Orders.  Most jurisdictions  require a both a pre-construction and post-construction accounting of debris separation and disposal as a condition of permit issuance and final approval.

What Are The Cost-Benefits Of Construction Waste Reduction ?

Waste reduction can save builders money. Some regional agencies have banned vegetation altogether from their landfills.  Many materials have scrap value or may be cheaper to recycle than to dispose because of their weight.  For example, CalTrans’ Standard Specifications allow up to 100% recycled aggregate, asphalt, and processed glass in road construction.  Reducing material consumption and waste, which contribute 56% of the total US greenhouse gas emissions, has supplemental benefits for energy conservation and climate change.

What Are The Building Standards Codes Regulations ?

The 2013 California Green Standards Code mandates that a minimum of 50% of non-hazardous waste be salvaged or recycled for new residential and non-residential building construction, demolition and certain additions and alteration projects:

  • New construction and demolition projects with a combined disposal weight of less than 4 lbs/sq ft in low rise new residential structures (3 stories or less) and 2 lbs/sq ft in non-residential and high rise residential buildings (4 stories or more).
  • Additions to non-residential buildings or structures of at least 1,000 square feet or alterations with an estimated construction cost of at least $200,000.
  • Additions and alterations to residential buildings that increase the structure’s conditioned area, volume or size.
Who Can Remove Hazardous Waste ?

California has five general classifications of Hazardous Waste  –  F-list (e.g., solvents), K-list (e.g., pesticide manufacturing), P-list and U-list (e.g., pharmaceuticals), and M-list (e.g., fluorescent lamps) and four general characteristics of Hazardous Waste  – ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity .  The Business and Professions Code prohibits contractors who do not have a CSLB Hazardous Substance Removal certification from removing or remediating hazardous waste, including underground storage tanks.   The Health and Safety Code defines removing as the cleanup or removal of released hazardous substances from the environment.  Only A, B, C 12, C 36, C 57, C 61, and D 40 contractors may apply for HSR certification, which does not include Asbestos certification.

Construction and Demolition Debris that contains hazardous waste (e.g., pressure treated wood, asbestos, lead paint) or universal waste (e.g., fluorescent and mercury lamps) will not be accepted at local Household Waste Disposal facilities and must be disposed at transfer facilities or specialized commercial firms.

Check the Links below and your local jurisdiction’s website for additional information.



Building Standards Codes

Cal Recycle

Department of Toxic Substances Control

Contractors State License Board

State Statutes