Beyond 75% Recycling – Toward Zero Waste


Future 500’s new white paper, “Beyond 75% Recycling – Toward Zero Waste in California”, details our independent insights from a CalRecycle-sponsored "Bioplastics Project" and provides a high-level policy frame for government, industry and other stakeholders as California embarks on its ambitious plans to sharply reduce its solid waste footprint.

Read on for key insights and to download our white paper.


In 2011, California’s Legislature set an ambitious statewide goal of “75 percent recycling, composting or source reduction of solid waste by 2020.” The law has proven inspiring but also daunting – as new materials enter the waste stream, our ability to properly and efficiently sort recyclables grows increasingly complex. Recognizing that California’s waste challenges will not be solved through existing frameworks alone, the state’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) has sought broad stakeholder input on how to best develop a comprehensive waste reduction strategy.


Toward this end, CalRecycle funded the Future 500 Bioplastics Project – an innovative project designed to determine whether bioplastic is a contaminant in mixed recyclables, and whether optical sorting might provide a solution. The study demonstrated that, while bioplastic is not a major contaminant, other materials are, and a system of auxiliary Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) equipped with optical sorters could significantly reduce the problem, helping advance the state toward 75% recycling. The data findings and key outcomes of this project are available in CalRecycle’s technical report.

But more importantly, the Bioplastics Project revealed that optical sorters are no panacea to California’s complex waste challenges. Moving beyond 75 percent necessitates a shift from isolated approaches toward systemic solutions that overcome gridlock and aim higher on the “3 Rs” hierarchy. Industry, government and zero waste advocates must consider ways to internalize externalities not to impose pain, but to drive innovation, and tap the potential of technology to help step further past the consumption-based throwaway economy.

NOTICE: A previously published version of this White Paper inadvertently implied collaboration with CalRecycle on its content. While the Bioplastics Sorting Project generated data funded by a grant award from CalRecycle, the analysis in this report was not part of the grant. The White Paper is solely the opinion of Future 500 and is neither funded nor endorsed by CalRecycle.

ReportFuture 500