CR&R is a family owned business started in 1963 by Clifford R. Ronnenburg. Today, the company provides service to more than two million customers, of that 88,000 households are in Southern California. They have facilities in places varying from San Juan, CA, to Washington, to Castle Rock, CO. In Southern California the main competitors for CR&R are Waste Management, Republic, and Ware Disposal. CR&R recently beat out Waste Management for the franchise of Lake Forest. When a City is in need of a waste and recycling servicer a city council will put out a Request for Proposal enumerating the requirements to service their city. Companies will than put a bid for the contract. This bid is normally for a franchise which is a contract to service the entire city. A franchise allows for better service and lower rates because they are working with the whole city and a guaranteed to cover their costs. This is contrary to areas in LA where there are multiple companies servicing different residents on the same street. The contracts between the city and waste services usually are for 7-10 years. There are also evergrande contracts where it is 7 years long but each year they add another year so long as they are content with the services. If they are not satisfied with the services they will not add another year and let the contract terminate. After then the city will put our RFP and then the company can bid on it again and may get chosen if they have changed what they did wrong. To process the recyclable produced by their customers CR&R uses Material Recovery Facilities or MRFs.
At the CR&R recycling facility we toured two MRFs where the product is taken and sorted out. The MRF we toured is a ‘Clean MRFs’, as opposed to ‘Dirty MRFs’. The ‘Dirty MRFs’ contain hazardous materials and are completely enclosed; visits are not allowed due to liability reasons. These ‘Clean MRFs’ only deal with recyclable material. This is recyclable material from the recycle carts at homes and the recycle dumpster at businesses brought here for sorting into the different commodities for shipping off into The World Market. The different commodities CR&R deals with are plastic, paper, and aluminum. As for CR&R’s presence in the world market, they sell aluminum, paper/cardboard, and plastic waste. Almost all (if not all) of CR&R’s recyclables sold on the world market are sold to China.
Assembly Bill 341 mandates a state-wide commercial recycling program in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as to expand recycling facilities and opportunities in California. CR&R as a result must comply with these requirements. Craig Dibley, a public relations employee of CR&R, spoke of three main types of plastics they deal with: Type I plastics, also known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which consists of food containers, plastic bottles, as well as packaging trays among others. Type II plastics, or high-density polyethylene (HDPE), are used to make things like milk jugs, detergent containers, and toys. CR&R also recycles a third category of plastics known as thermoplastic olefins (TPOs) that are used to make heavier items like car bumpers. Although these are not the only types of plastic waste created, these three are the main recyclable plastics CR&R concerns themselves with at their Stanton facility. Dealing with other plastics and waste such as batteries and other electronics requires collaboration with alternative recycle centers and waste management companies. Much of these relationships are dependent on the contracts they form with the city and the contracts each waste management company forms with one another.
At the end of the tour of the CR&R recycling center, Craig helped shed some light on issues that the company faces in regards to gas emissions in landfills. He informed us that most of the methane produced in landfills is due to the surprisingly high percentage of trash that is comprised of food waste; some of the largest contributors to the problem are businesses in the food industry. As much as thirty to forty percent of the waste that CR&R collects from businesses like restaurants is food waste. Craig discussed how organic waste is produced both in the kitchen (during preparation) and in the dining room where customers often leave food. In order to reduce the amount of methane emitted from landfills, Craig explained how the state of California passed Assembly Bill 1826 to reduce the threshold for the amount of waste needed to require food waste collecting services as of April 1, 2016. Whereas before, the threshold was 8 cubic yards, the bill will now require “organic waste generators” (businesses) that produce more than 4 cubic yards of food waste to comply with the local jurisdiction in waste recollection, as well as make them subject to charges imposed by the jurisdiction for the service. CR&R expects to work with local governments in order to help manage the disposal of food waste in a more efficient manner.
To diminish the startling amount of uncontained methane emitted from landfills, CR&R is in the process of planning for the construction of a biogas plant, or a facility dedicated to a more efficient decomposition of organic waste. The innovative technology at play is a tank called an anaerobic digester. The process begins with the waste being broken down to smaller sized piece and then fed into the tank where it is moved around and mixed with microorganisms that convert the waste into a gas that is on average, by some estimates, sixty percent methane. From there, the gas is then transferred to another system to be purified from unusable components. The biogas is then ready to be used by an engine to produce electricity. The implementation of this technology by CR&R would take the state legislation and elevate the effectiveness by not only taking food waste out of landfills but also by decomposing it in a more environmentally-friendly way.
CR & R is the primary waste management service amongst Southern California residents and businesses. The company gained the rights to service the community after working with local authorities to develop an organized system for trash collection and recycling. Though we were initially skeptical of CR & R’s effectiveness, our interview with Craig put these qualms aside. Craig maintains, and our visit evinced, that the company upholds high ethical standards. Though the company does make large amounts of profit, it functions on stringent regulations that aim towards environmental friendliness and awareness. These regulations are put into place by the local city council engineer and council, who grant the rights of servicing to a single company. Due to this system of checks and balances, CR&R is made to uphold certain standards.
Though the company has developed an effectively means for trash collection and recycling, the amount of trash collected daily should be a cause for alarm. Despite only servicing around 88,000 households, CR&R requires a large network of trucks and daily shipments to transfer the waste. While our waste management systems are efficient, our lifestyle certainly is not. Southern California is composed of several of the richest neighborhoods in the United States and as a result produces vast amounts of waste. While CR&R does involve itself in community outreach and has limited residents to a particular amount of waste, these measures in themselves are not answers to our environmental concerns. We must take initiative and introduce innovative systems such as plastic pyrolysis.