China stopped taking most recycling from other countries last year, leaving Northern California cities scrambling to find someone to take what we throw out. Growing demand could mean more responsibility from residents. At San Francisco’s Recology Recycling Plant, they want what comes in as refuse to leave as a clean bale of something that someone else might want to buy. Spokesman Robert Reed said they spent more than $30 million to buy new equipment to better separate plastics from paper. “We’re trying to produce cleaner bales, higher quality bales. There’s always demand in the marketplace for high-quality bales of recycling.”
He said they have reduced contamination from 5% down to 1%, but they say it’s time for consumers to step up as well. For example, 80% of recycling paper is or cardboard, a resource that is very much in demand. But it has to be dry, and just one can of liquid can ruin an entire load. “Empty your soda cans, empty your water bottles. That keeps liquids out of the recycling bin. Shake out any food containers so that you’re not putting any food in the recycling bin,” Reed said.
The company now provides small containers for food scraps that can be composted. That keeps materials that can be recycled from being contaminated. “When the material in the recycling bin is cleaner and dryer…then the recycling workers have a better shot at getting it recycled,” Reed said.
Unfortunately, most of the thin, plastic packaging and bags do not have any market value. Also, items need to be loose, bagged material goes straight to a landfill. Reed said the company has tried to make recycling convenient and he’s proud of how well his city has embraced it. But he said they focus their education efforts on young people because they are more willing to change their habits. “The real trick is to be brave and to inspire people to take those first few steps,” Reed said.