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January 25, 2017

California — a longtime leader in green and sustainable building practices – developed the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) in order to improve public health, safety and general welfare by enhancing the design and construction of buildings.  In 2010, CALGreen became the nation’s first state-mandated green building code.[[1]]  On January 1, 2017, the minimum diversion requirements for construction & demolition (C&D) waste will increase from 50% to 65% across the State of California.[[2]]  Also expanding in 2017 is the number of waste generators required to separate and divert organic waste under California Assembly Bill 1826.  AB 1826 will continue to expand and cover more businesses and multi-family customers through 2021 until the amount of organic waste being landfilled annually has been reduced by 50% (compared to 2014 disposal volumes).  This represents an additional 6.35 million tons of organic waste needing to be separated, collected, processed, and recovered by programs and facilities and represents an expansion of 37% over 2014 volumes.   Wood waste in the form of lumber is a large component of this material. It is the second-largest component of the waste stream based on the 2014 waste characterization study (2.1 million tons, 7 percent of the disposed waste stream).[[3]]  Wood waste accounts for over 40% of C&D materials and recovering it is a critical part of reaching the new diversion threshold.[[4]]


Processed (chipped) wood is used as mulch, composting bulking agent, animal bedding, and fuel. Wood waste from construction or demolition is attractive as a fuel because of its low moisture content and because the non-uniform nature of the wood waste makes it less desirable to other wood waste processors.  Unfortunately, the Biomass electric generating plants that convert renewable materials such as wood and other agricultural waste into energy are in danger of disappearing in California.  In 2000, California had 39 operating biomass facilities generating 864 Megawatts (MW) of baseload electricity from 6.7 million tons of biomass each year.  The majority of these plants were built in the 1980s and many are nearing the end of their planned lives.  Between 2000 and 2016, approximately half of California’s plants either shut down or were idled, reducing this important source of energy by 322 MW.  What is more concerning for waste management agencies is the loss of approximately 2.5 million tons of capacity. Seven more plants will be shutting down in 2017 due to antiquated or expiring contracts.[[5]]  It will take approximately 500 of the latest generation of small gasfire plants producing 3 MW per year to replace the biomass plants being shut down.


The demise of biomass is the result of a high cost of production compared to alternative energy sources. Biomass currently costs around 85% more than PV Solar and, without Greenhouse Gas subsidies, Biomass facilities will continue to disappear.  If we do not create alternative locations for this material, it will all be destined for use as alternative daily cover and/or landfilled.

[1] http://www.hcd.ca.gov/docs/calgreen/2016calgreenlegreport.pdf

[2] Characterization of Building-Related Construction And Demolition Debris In The United States, EPA 1998. http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/02/01095.pdf

[3] State of Recycling in California Updated 2016, CalRecycle 2016.  http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Publications/Documents/1554/201601554.pdf

[4] Characterization of Building-Related Construction And Demolition Debris In The United States, EPA 1998. http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/02/01095.pdf

[5] http://ncrarecycles.org/2016/03/recycling-update-2016-speaker-presentation-videos/