Look to Past for Today’s Recycling

Smart recycling

By Kathy Epperson

We cannot continue recycling like we have since the 1990s. Our recycling habits have gotten sloppy. Smart recycling is easy, simple and straightforward.

Until recently, we stuffed vast piles of plastic and paper refuse onto giant container ships and sold them to China. Unfortunately, many of the bales of plastic sent to China were worthless. They also ended up polluting land and ocean. A 2015 study found 1.3 million to 3.5 million metric tons of plastic flowed into the ocean from Chinese coastal sources each year.

Fortunately, China decided to stop serving as the world’s trash compactor. This forces us to reckon with reality.  Much of what we blithely toss away is wet, dirty or worthless.

We need to recycle closer to what we did in the 1970s. The recycling operations that continue to thrive and remain profitable offer clean, high-quality plastics and paper to domestic markets. They focus on keeping material clean and separated, and they ask residents to do just a little bit more. This also saves a lot of money for everyone.

Be a Smart Recycler

Some of us are guilty of “wishful recycling.”

We have the vague hope anything we put in the blue containers will be repurposed. Recycling doesn’t work this way.

Mt. Diablo Resource Recovery Center separates and bales materials for sale to manufacturers. Our newsprint goes to paper mills; cardboard, to box makers; aluminum, to beverage-can makers; and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, to makers of water and soda bottles. Anything our recycler can’t resell ends up in landfill.

Sadly, 50% of what we put into our recycle containers ends up in landfill. When in doubt, keep it out of recycle.

Putting trash in recycle containers is worse than not recycling. It increases our monthly coupon. It also undoes careful efforts by others to separate recyclables from landfill trash and compost.

Recycling is easy if you follow these four steps: Know what to recycle; make sure everything is empty, clean and dry; put everything loose in recycle containers (except bags of plastic bags or shredded paper); and make sure each item is larger than a credit card.

Know what to recycle:

Smart recycling is simple and straightforward. Only six categories belong in our recycle containers:

1) Hard plastic containers (if empty, rinsed and dry)

2) No plastic bags (unless in a bag of bags)

3) Metal (but no pull-tab lids)

4) Glass jars

5) Paper (but no napkins, paper towels, cash register receipts, plastic-coated paperboard like milk cartons or ice cream boxes)

6) Flattened cardboard (must fit in cart)

That’s it! Nothing else goes in recycle containers.

For more specific information: https://sustainablerossmoor.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/SR_WasteGuidlines_2-19_v3.pdf

Make sure everything is empty, clean and dry:

A Starbucks coffee cup with liquid at the bottom can contaminate a whole container, causing it to go to landfill.

Put everything loose in recycle containers: (except bags of plastic bags or shredded paper). Never bag or bundle your recyclables. Republic Services picks up recycle at no extra charge – if the container only contains recycling. But Republic charges Mutuals extra if recycling containers include trash, have bagged recyclables or are overflowing. These charges increase our coupon.

A bag of recyclables contaminates the recycle container – even if the bag only contains recyclables. If a driver sees more than 1% contamination, everything in the container is sent to landfill. If a bag of recyclables makes it to our recycling center, it is sent to landfill.

Make sure each item is larger than a credit card: Size matters. Loose plastic bags, straws and plastic wrap frequently clog the conveyor belts. Anything too small to go through sorting equipment can shut down operations.

Let’s do our part. Smart recycling is simple and straightforward if we follow the above steps. For more information, the Sierra Club’s July-August 2019 magazine has four interesting articles:  http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/ 2019-4-july-august .

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, August 14, 2019. Email Kathy Epperson at epperson1@gmail.com.

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