Long Beach is making a dramatic change to its curbside recycling program. Plastic food wrapping, children’s toys, and teething rings can no longer be tossed in the city’s purple bins. Neither can plastic bags, produce bags, squeezable bottles, takeout food containers, egg cartons, foam packaging, milk cartons, laundry jugs, and any other plastic labeled with the recycling numbers 3, 4, 6, or 7.
“A lot of things that were traditionally recyclable are no longer recyclable,” said Diko Melkonian, bureau manager and deputy director for public works with the city of Long Beach. “There’s no market for them since we’ve always relied on other countries to reuse them in some format.”
Like every other municipal recycling system in the U.S., Long Beach has been negatively affected by the so-called National Sword policy China enacted in January 2018, which banned the import of almost all plastics and other recyclable materials from foreign countries.
“We decided strategically here to wait it out for a while and see how the markets respond. We got to a point where we felt we didn’t foresee any change in the near future, so it was time to do some education with our public,” Melkonian said.
Starting this week, Long Beach will employ the two electronic billboards it owns and its refuse trucks to encourage its residents to “recycle right.” In addition to holding virtual workshops and sending mailers, it will push messaging on its various social media accounts, as well as a new Instagram page with the sole focus of promoting the city’s recycling program updates.
The changes to the curbside recycling program in Long Beach are an anomaly. Most cities are continuing to recycle as usual, including Los Angeles, despite having the same issues of accepting plastics 3, 4, 6, and 7 in its recycling bins even though they no longer have a market and are, for the most part, being landfilled.
“I’m of the perspective that we want to minimize the burden that we place on the residents to figure out what is and what is not recyclable,” said Enrique Zaldivar, general manager of L.A. Sanitation and Environment. “The moment it becomes too complicated to follow, then we lose our customers.”