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Fighting the Zero Waste Death Spiral

April 5, 2015

SWANA Western Regional Symposium, Palm Springs, CA Presenter: Rob Hilton

Communities with zero waste or high diversion goals face a unique challenge when it comes to structuring rates. On the one hand, economic structures that reward recycling and penalize wasting are critical to achieving success. Commonly, this takes the form of charging high prices for disposal in order to subsidize recycling activities. On the other hand, as those economic structures are successful in creating the desired behavior change they undermine the economic viability of the systems that rely on them. As communities achieve and exceed 50% recycling rates, this results in funding more and more of the system costs on a smaller and smaller base (“the Zero Waste Death Spiral”); making the cost to customers higher and more volatile.

Recognizing this risk in light of California’s 75% statewide recycling goal, HF&H and CalRecycle convened a series of workshops throughout California in an effort to educate communities and service providers about the challenges as well as some emerging solutions. These workshops included more than a dozen speakers from communities and companies that are developing their own solutions to the “Death Spiral”. This presentation summarizes and highlights the challenges faced and solutions employed by several communities with recycling goals of 75% or greater.