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Recycling standards in the immediate Bay Area are more liberal than those of the North Bay.
Recycling standards in the immediate Bay Area are more liberal than those of the North Bay.

Some Practical Advice
on Contemporary Recycling

Apr 5, 2019

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Recycling has changed in the last year or so. I saw a headline last year that read, “90% of all recycling goes into the landfill.” While I know that many people unnecessarily throw recyclable products in the landfill, that couldn’t be 90%. I looked beyond the headline and what I found was that China, where most of our recycling goes, used to accept 5% contamination per ton. Last year that shifted to 1%.

If over 1% of the recycling is contaminated and dirty, they can reject the whole one-ton bundle. The onus is on the consumer to clean the stuff they recycle. Please don’t contaminate by wish cycling! This is the hopeful practice where someone thinks something should be recyclable when it isn’t and recycles it anyway, hoping against hope that they recycler will make good on that wish.Pay attention to the guidelines provided by Recology. Sonoma County guidelines can be found at  www.recyclenow.org

Recycling standards in the immediate Bay Area are more liberal than those of the North Bay. This is due to the capacity of the processing facilities in each area. While Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco can take compostable plastic and waxy paper products, Sonoma and Marin counties can’t. So around here put those compostable plastics and waxy paper cups and plates in the landfill. Recology will take milk cartons but not waxy cups and plates. Plastic eating utensils, straws and stirrers need to be land filled as they are too small to be processed. Cardboard should be recycled. Paper can be either recycled or composted.

Compostable plastic items are 90%+ vegetable material and less than 10% plastic. The 90% decomposes in 90 – 180 days. The plastic, never. Plastic breaks down to micro-plastic then no further. These plant-based plastics seemed like a good idea at the onset, but they don’t do what we need them to.We need to abandon these substandard items in favor of non-plastic, plant-based utensils made of birch or bamboo, for example. Better yet, use washable, reusable utensils.

Bring stuff from home when you go out. You’ll feel better about yourself for taking positive action. Last year the Progressive Festival offered a Green discount on meals you bought if you brought along your own sustainable dining ware. Hopefully they’ll do it again this year. Please do not mix compostable plastics with recyclable ones as compostables melt at a lower temperature and can quite literally gum up recycling processing machines.

Most of the compostables items we see around here come from World Centric. These often feature a green band on them, the word 'compostable' or a zero in a triangle. Other compostables get lumped into recycling #7, the “other” category. You can’t compost these even in the immediate bay area based on the 7 in the triangle alone, you need to know what they are made of. Best practice is to landfill them.

To complete the cycle we need to purchase recycled items, made from recycled content. . Do you look for recycled products when you shop? For recycling to work in a market driven economy it is crucial that the economic circle be completed. If you’re not buying recycled, you’re not recycling. There’s tremendous power in the purse/wallet and we as consumers play a vital role in effectively recycling.

Finally, recycling is good, composting better and reusing best of all. Remember to rethink, reduce, reuse, rot (compost), recycle.


Sources: Green Mary, Recology, www.thebalancesmb.com, www.ecologycenter.org, Department of Ecology State of Washington

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