New CA Law: Organics Out of the Landfill

Have you been noticing a push for composting in your community? Are you receiving more messaging about proper waste sorting? There’s a reason you’re seeing increased outreach about compost, waste reduction, and perhaps even information about the greenhouse gas methane. Back in 2016, California passed a statewide law called Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383) to reduce harmful emissions in our environment. CalRecycle, the governing body responsible for creating SB 1383 regulatory standards, identified a large source of methane is found in landfills, specifically from organic, compostable material (meaning food scraps, food/beverage soiled paper, and yard trimmings).

SB 1383 impacts all generators of organic, compostable material, which means the law impacts all residents and commercial businesses in California. All generators are now required to properly sort their waste, by either placing food scraps, food/beverage soiled paper products, and yard trimmings in the compost, or self-hauling compostable material to a composting facility or program. Jurisdictions (cities, counties and special districts) have the authority to assess a fine for non-compliance.

To further inform the public of this law, RethinkWaste hosted two community town halls where CalRecycle, Recology, and RethinkWaste staff presented on how the law affects residents and businesses and fielded questions from attendees. Below are some of the common questions we received.

1. How does the law impact schools?

Schools will subscribe to compost and recycle services. In San Mateo County, many will also likely incorporate food share tables to reduce food waste on-site.

2. How does the law impact condos and apartments?

If not already subscribed to compost services, condos and apartments will need to reach out to Recology San Mateo County to begin services. Recology will assess the property and work collaboratively with property managers to provide technical assistance, trainings, waste audits, and educational materials for property managers and residents. Reach out to Recology through their online contact form.

3. How will this impact apartment buildings that do not have space for additional trash receptacles?

Once property managers begin the process of adding compost services to their apartments or condos, Recology’s Waste Zero team will work closely with property managers and/or staff to assess garbage services and space limitations to right-size their services.

4. Where can we find resources for proper sorting in each bin?

Visit com where you can choose your specific city and use Recology’s searchable list to find out where certain items go. Feel free to also check out RethinkWaste’s sorting page for images of signage along with waste reduction tips.

5. How will the state enforce compliance?

Compliance will fall on jurisdictions (cities, counties or special districts). CalRecycle will handle compliance for public schools, state, federal facilities, and any entities that city or county jurisdictions don’t have authority over. However, jurisdictions are still responsible for outreach and education.

SB 1383 will be a challenge well worth-it, and here in the RethinkWaste service area, we have been very proactive about its implementation. We will continue to work with our community partners to comply with SB 1383 regulations and welcome more community partners to get involved in the pressing issue of climate change.

Have you ever thought about the environment of a landfill? Items that end up at a landfill get buried into the ground and packed tightly into the Earth, where it sits for years. When compostable material breaks down in an environment like the landfill, there’s no oxygen for the material to properly break down, causing it to release the potent greenhouse gas methane. Eliminating organic materials from ever reaching the landfill is one way we can all do our part in fighting climate change.

For more information, visit our SB 1383 webpage.

4 Activities for Adults from our Student Lessons

The RethinkWaste Environmental Education team has written and released a comprehensive lesson booklet for students in grades K – 5, complete with teacher instructions, student instructions and activities, and videos with audio readings. These lessons cover topics such as proper waste sorting in a 3-bin system, repairing broken goods, categorizing litter outside, and reducing food scraps through kitchen creativity. Each lesson has a reflection activity, but these activities aren’t limited to the students completing the lessons – they are great activities for adults too!

  1. Color Your Feelingsfrom Waste Detectives and Litter Bingo lessons
    After learning about all waste, landfills, and litter, you might feel a little blue! This activity encourages students to identify how they feel after learning about these topics and to assign a color to each feeling. They are then to fill in a heart with these colors to show how much of each feeling they have and are encouraged to share these feelings with someone in their household.

    This is a good activity for adults to practice too – how often do you take time to check in with yourself to identify how you are feeling about the past, present, or future? How often do you sit down to color? Completing this activity with your student or on your own is a great way to take a reflective moment for yourself.
  2. Food Historyfrom Eat Your Compost! Lesson
    This activity guides students through research of ingredients that they use or see being used in their kitchens regularly. They are to look up what country the ingredient originates from, when it was discovered, and who it was discovered by. The activity also has them read about what countries these ingredients are now grown in, what dishes they are commonly used in, how far away the ingredient is grown, and if it can be grown in California.

    Students may not have much input when it comes to building the grocery list, so it is important that adults do their research too. Knowing about our ingredients and making efforts to eat local produce are great ways to reduce waste and protect the environment. By choosing to eat foods that are grown locally or domestically, we can prevent unnecessary emissions and packaging from transport of goods. Learning about locally grown produce is also a great way to try new ingredients!
  3. Nature Walk from Post-Tour & Post-Presentation Wrap-Up lesson
    The Nature Walk activity encourages students to build a closer relationship with their local environment so they can better understand the need for environmental protection. Students are asked to write down what they saw, heard, touched, smelled, and felt while on their walk.

    Whether you are working from home or back in the office, it may seem difficult to find a moment to take a walk or stroll, visit a nearby park, or drive somewhere for a hike. However, just a few minutes of being outdoors can make a difference (as long as the air quality is good!) and provide yourself with a much needed break. Connecting with your local environment and admiring the simple things, no matter where you live or work, can be quite refreshing.
  4. Advocacy Letterfrom Every Litter Bit Counts lesson
    In this lesson, a character named Xavi writes a letter to Arrowhead asking that they share tips on how to protect the environment. This letter serves as an example for students to write their own advocacy letter to the company, organization, or governing body of their choice, and shows them how to call for change.

    Advocacy letters are a powerful tool for adults to use, too. We can use them to write to elected officials about a bill that we would like them to support, or to companies that send orders with excessive packaging. As consumers and members of our communities, we have the power to use our voices for good.

Did you give these activities a try? We would love to receive feedback on the lesson booklet. If you have a few more minutes, please send your feedback here.

New Mural at the Shoreway Environmental Center

In-person tours of the Shoreway Environmental Center engage most of the senses: the smell of the Transfer Station, the sound of bulldozers picking up loads of materials, and the view of piles of waste that one has to see to believe. As of July 2021, Shoreway has added a beautiful new sight to see and touch: a delightfully captivating mural and accompanying waste education displays! 

While the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person activities, the lull in tours allowed RethinkWaste to brainstorm a new project. In an effort to utilize the blank wall space in the hallway of the Shoreway Education Center, RethinkWaste staff drafted a mural idea that educates visitors about the realities of landfills and ocean plastic pollution. The wonderful Bay Area Muralist, Hayley Ferreira, and her assistant Gustavo were able to bring our ideas to life! 

Before: Muralist Hayley Ferreira and assistant Gustavo assessing Shoreway display before mural project.
After: Newly painted mural and interactive displays.

The new 40-foot mural covers a range of content, including a map of the RethinkWaste service area, an explanation of a landfill’s anatomy, and a depiction of the harm done to sea life when human-made plastic clogs our oceans. In addition, the hallway now contains two educational displays with a total of 20 informative fun-facts about everyday items, waste vocabulary, and ecology.   

One of RethinkWaste’s main goals is to show where waste can end up, why we need to change our waste habits, and the importance of waste reduction. By experiencing the Shoreway facility tour and observing the new mural, we hope that guests will be inspired to take action against waste.  

In-person tours of the Shoreway Environmental Center remain unavailable at the moment, but be sure to look out for this fascinating new display when tours resume! We can’t wait for visitors to learn more about waste while visiting our facility.  In the meantime, you can still sign up for a virtual public tour and check the RethinkWaste website or our social media to stay up to date on the status of in-person tours.  

Prepping for Plastic Free July Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a Prepping for Plastic Free July Webinar on June 29, 2021. We presented on the history of waste, shared a video showcasing different experiences in waste reduction, followed by a discussion with our community about reducing waste solutions.

This page provides the presentation slides and links to resources. If you have questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.


If you have questions, fill out the form below!

Contact Form

Apartment or Condo Residents: Looking to Compost?

Do you live in an apartment or condominium, but don’t have compost services available? We have good news! There are a couple of options to choose from in disposing of your food scraps, food and beverage soiled paper, or houseplant trimmings.

  1. Start a worm composting bin. This method is perfect for homes with limited space, as a worm bin can conveniently be placed in a kitchen, balcony, or even dining room. A worm bin is easy to use and is low maintenance. All you need to do is put your specific organic waste in, worms eat it, and it becomes rich compost! For more information, the County of San Mateo has a page dedicated on how to get started. The County even offers rebates if you buy a worm bin through their designated vendor, along with free workshops about general bin information and maintenance.
  2. Join a community garden. Community gardens usually have their own composting system that may allow residents to drop off their organic waste in, similar to the Community Compost Hub Program in East Palo Alto, which is open to all San Mateo County residents. Check to see if there is a local community garden near you that may have a similar offer.
  3. Talk to your property manager. Reach out to your property manager to inquire about getting compost services at your apartment/condo complex. Usually there are other residents who are interested too, so start by finding support among your neighbors, which will only better your chances! Check out our guide to learn tips in requesting this service.

It may initially feel discouraging or out of your control if your apartment/condo complex doesn’t offer compost services. But know that there are other options to dispose of your organic items, and that your actions could spark change within your apartment/condo complex! If you have more questions or concerns, fill out the form below and contact us with your specific questions!

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Plastics Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a Plastics Webinar on April 15, 2021 in celebration of Earth Month. We shared a film screening of the PBS Frontline documentary Plastic Wars, followed by a panel discussion with experts in the field: Alejandra Warren, Sustainability Consultant and Co-Founder of Plastic Free Future, Dan Domonoske, Executive Vice President of Potential Industries, and Eva Holman, Policy Organizer at UPSTREAM.

This page provides the webinar recording, links to more resources, and all of the questions (with answers) submitted by attendees. If you have additional questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.


Resources from Panelists

Webinar recording and panelist discussion

Questions and Answers

Text was edited for conciseness.

1. Are plastics #3-7 going to the landfill?

Dan: Yes, all of the plastic #3-7’s are going to the landfill. There is a market for plastic #5, which is polypropylene, and depending on the MRF (Material Recovery Facility) recovery equipment, they’re able to recover that.

2. What are some plastics-related policies that UPSTREAM is working on?

Eva: Within the last few years, we’ve started to introduce reuse policies which mandate reuse for on site, and sometimes can also include a cup or a container charge for single-use “to go” containers. These are really what we’ve been passionate about introducing, supporting, and passing all over the Bay Area and beyond.  

3. Some grocery stores are collecting single-use plastic bags. Is there a market for them? What happens to them?

Dan: It’s my understanding that the contamination level on single-use plastic bags is so high that even if it ends up in a recycling facility, it just gets trashed.

4. How many shipping containers are currently being exported for recycling?

Dan: Between six and eight 40-foot containers per day. It goes to Southeast Asia but that’s cardboard and paper because there’s essentially no market for that in California. A 40-foot container holds about 20 to 23 tons. Very few plastics are being exported from our Shoreway facility to Southeast Asia.

5. I’m a middle schooler, how can I help? It’s way harder to make an impact as a younger person as adults don’t really listen.

Alejandra: Use your voice. Don’t be afraid, don’t feel small, because any conversation that you can have can make a really big difference with your friends at school with your teachers, with your parents, with your family. Every time you show them by example that you are leading the way, they’re going to listen to you. So don’t think that they are not listening. We are all listening, and we want more kids like you involved.

Eva: School cafeterias are a great launching point! For some reason, schools moved away from reusable trays and containers to rigid plastic containers with plastic tops some years ago. Schools in Palo Alto, as well as in Berkeley and Marin are moving back to reusables in their cafeterias. If you’re in a school that has a cafeteria that’s using single use items, that’s a great spot to get involved! You have a strong voice within your school environment, especially if your school is back [in session] now. If not, then it might take until next year, but that’s gives you some time to set up a really great campaign and do some research on how schools in Berkeley and Palo Alto have navigated that process.

6. I’ve heard that some plastics, the kind that seem almost like cellophane, are biodegradable?

Dan: It doesn’t work. It’s fine in a lab, but there’s no commercially viable application for that in the country.

Alejandra: There’s a lot of greenwashing in “bioplastics,” “biodegradable plastics,” and “compostable plastics.”  We’re starting to understand that they really don’t do what people wanted them to do. We can see all sorts of plastic that say compostable, and they are probably compostable when they go to a composting facility with a really high temperature and controlled humidity. But if you take that compostable fork to the beach and accidentally drop it then a turtle is going to eat it. The fish are going to eat it, and it’s never going to decompose, it’s just going to break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics or nano-plastics. They’re going to end up in the fish, they’re going to end up in the food chain, and we’re going to end up eating them. So please keep your eyes open for all those names that are not the real solution.

7. What about Trex – NextTrex recycling program for plastic film?

Julia: A lot of plastics can be recycled once. You can turn a water bottle into a pair of shoes but you can’t recycle the shoe. So at least you’re extending the life of a product which I think is what NextTrex does.

Alejandra: Everything that we think that is recyclable, it’s just going to be down cycled probably into a product that is a lot lesser quality than the first one so then it ends there.

Dan: Recycling is if something gets used over and over. Glass, aluminum, and paper [get used] over and over. Down cycling is when you turn it into some kind of a park bench or three-dimensional plastic lumber and it stays that way forever. Even to do that, it’s not done with post-consumer film plastic.

8. How we can get Trader Joe’s to change their plastic packaging?

Eva: Don’t buy those things at Trader Joe’s. I know I frequent Trader Joe’s, but I try not to buy that packaged stuff because it’s completely wasteful and it’s completely unnecessary, especially for produce to be packaged like that.

Julia: Go by your stores, and let them know! The more people who speak up, the more they’ll hear about it.

9. Are there any restaurants in the Bay Area that will let you bring your own plate or container for takeout?

Eva: We’re starting to gather more data in this area! If you hear of a restaurant or a cafe that’s letting you bring your own, we want to hear about it. It’s really important that we celebrate these restaurants that are taking the lead.

Alejandra: Our plan is to create a map. We just had a meeting on this with a bunch of activists  in the Bay Area. We want to create a map that everyone can use to guide them in making decisions in frequenting restaurants and cafes that are allowing for reusables.

10. Are there any restaurants in the Bay Area that will let you bring your own plate or container for takeout?

Eva: We’re starting to gather more data in this area! If you hear of a restaurant or a cafe that’s letting you bring your own, we want to hear about it. It’s really important that we celebrate these restaurants that are taking the lead.

Alejandra: Our plan is to create a map. We just had a meeting on this with a bunch of activists  in the Bay Area. We want to create a map that everyone can use to guide them in making decisions in frequenting restaurants and cafes that are allowing for reusables.

11. What are the most impactful and also realistic plastic reduction campaigns that local organizations should encourage in their local communities?

Alejandra: As restaurants reopen, there’s an opportunity to ask legislators to pass a policy that mandates reuse for on-site dining at a new restaurant. If a restaurant’s opening or there’s a restaurant with new ownership or new management, mandate reusables for on-site dining. Also, push for PFAS ban no matter what, because PFAS chemicals should not be in your foodware whether it be plastic or non-plastic.

12. [In reference to the “chasing arrows” symbol and recycling] The printed guidelines on our bins from your companies are quite misleading. Why can’t we be honest with one another?

Eva: Just like we want transparency in our food system, I think the same kind of clarity should be expected from consumers about packaging. We want to know if it’s truly recyclable because that will impact our purchasing, and so I’m just really excited that this is changing. The film told the story really well about how these symbols were created, and none of it was to help consumers make the right decisions or to help waste management companies.

Dan: There are two cases right now we should keep our eye on in California. One is Smith vs. Keurig, which has to do with the pods, and the second one is Greenpeace vs. Walmart. Both of them have to do with stopping the misleading representation of recyclability when it’s not true.

13. Where to purchase bulk food in the Bay Area?

Alejandra: Check this list of stores that offer food in bulk.

14. Is the Biden administration and our new and improved Environmental Protection Agency working on resolving our plastics problem?

Eva: The “Break Free from Plastic” bill, is something we should all get behind and support. And recently, a reuse component was added to that as well. Also, climate is big on Biden’s plate right now, and obviously the extraction of fossil fuels and the creation of plastic has a huge climate impact, as well as many more aspects of the whole oil business. I think that the connection between plastics and climate will become an obvious next step. I know that Recology funded the ballot initiative, which would actually do a chargeback to the makers of plastic packaging. That money would be used to fund programs that are working on reducing plastic pollution.

15. Amazon brags that “this plastic bag is 50% lighter than a cardboard box”. Is this relevant?

Eva: The conversation should not be “is this one single use disposable better than this other single use disposable?” It should be “Hey Amazon, when are you going to start using reusable packaging?” The new campaign with Amazon is to get a reusable bag with a resealable closure and put that out into the market. There’s a big push from California, in the Bay Area and beyond, to ask Amazon to start piloting reusable packaging solutions.

16. What do you see as hopeful in the fight against plastic?

Alejandra: Just the fact that you’re here learning about it, and educating yourself, makes it a positive experience, because you’re learning and you care, and you’re going to bring this knowledge to your family and your friends, and you’re going to make a difference with this knowledge.

Dan: I think that it’s going to be harder for the big companies and the retailers to brainwash us into making stupid decisions to buy stuff without thinking about the unintended consequences. We are the ones that make decisions on what we choose to buy. And that’s a good thing.

Eva: I’m seeing this huge stage of opportunity and growth in green jobs, people moving away from going through other people’s garbage into jobs that bring them joy, and building a whole green infrastructure in this entire country and beyond!

Pre-Submitted Questions and Answers

1. Plastic bag recycling says bags must be clean & dry. What if one bag is dirty or wet, does the whole bundle get scrapped?

The short answer is typically no. Typically it takes more than just one piece of contamination to make the whole bundle unusable. The issue is if each person puts in one item that can’t be recycled what seems like a small amount of contamination can add up quickly.

2. What is the biggest disconnect with our waste management system and the general public?

One of the biggest disconnects with our waste system and the general public is the chasing arrows symbol. On almost all plastic items you can find the chasing arrows symbol, which some people mistakenly refer to as the recycling symbol, with a number inside. These chasing arrows and the number indicate what type of plastic the item is made out of, not that the item can be recycled.

3. Are people properly sorting? How much incorrect sorting can you tolerate with today’s recycling tech?

In our service area, for the most part people are sorting properly. At our Material Recovery Facility (MRF) we have a 13% contamination rate. The MRF is where we process all of the recyclables that we receive in the blue recycling bin/cart. That basically means for every 100 items sent to the MRF about 13 of them can’t be recycled and instead are sent to the landfill.

4. Is there an organization similar to RethinkWaste operating in the Monterey Bay Area? If not, can the model be leveraged?

Yes, the Monterey Bay area has an organization called the Monterey Regional Waste Management District (MRWMD). MRWMD serves Moss Landing, Castroville, Marina, Seaside, Del Rey Oaks, Sand City, Monterey, Monterey-Salinas Highway area, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Unincorporated Carmel, Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands, and Big Sur.

5. How can I avoid plastic when buying food?

One option is to buy in bulk whenever possible. If you are looking for places to purchase bulk products, check this list of locations. Another option is to see if there are other packaging options such as metal cans or glass jars.

6. What to do with many plastic bags – grocery, bags carrying food, nuts, snack etc.

Unfortunately, in our service area we can’t recycle soft plastic, including grocery bags and snack wrappers. If you can’t reuse them, all soft plastic must go in the black landfill bin.

7. How much of our plastics actually get recycled?

Plastics #1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE) are readily recyclable and are usually recycled in both domestic and some international markets. Plastics #1 are items such as water and soda bottles, peanut butter jars, and salad dressing bottles. These items are mostly recycled into more water and soda bottles or textiles and insulation. Examples of Plastics #2 are milk jugs, laundry detergent and oil bottles, and drain cleaner containers. These items are mostly recycled into more laundry detergent and oil bottles, piping, recycling containers, shampoo bottles, and chairs.

8. Why can’t the U.S. incinerate the unusable plastics that litter our environment like Japan does?

Incineration is illegal in the state of California, so incineration is not an option.

9. Is there such a thing as bad plastic or like plastic you wouldn’t recommend recycling?

Plastics #3 – 7 are plastics that are difficult to recycle. Examples of Plastics #3 – 7 are PVC pipes, yogurt containers, cold and hot beverage lids, and takeout containers. There is currently no market for the material when it is deconstructed, as these are low-quality plastics. Currently, RethinkWaste is still accepting plastics #1 – 7, but once plastics #1 – 2 are sorted out, plastics #3 – 7 are directed to the transfer station and sent to the landfill. Try and avoid these plastics as much as possible or reuse them if you can.

10. I understand that black plastic cannot be recycled. How can we get manufactures to quit using it? Better labeling?

One way to try and get manufactures to stop using black plastic would be to advocate for other options. You can do this by writing letters directly to manufacturers and businesses, speaking to your local representatives, and spreading the word about waste reduction bills and ordinances.

11. Why are towns not having places to bring items that terracycle collects, such as a drop off place for items that terracycle collects?

Terracycle is a company that offers collection and recycling of items that are typically not accepted in a curbside recycling program. It would be wonderful if more communities had more drop off locations for hard to recycle items. If you are looking for local options for recycling different items please check recyclestuff.org.

12. When/how will plastic producers be held responsible if Break Free From Plastics doesn’t pass?

For more information and to show your support for the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, check their website.

If you have more questions, fill out the form below!

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Adopt-A-Drain in Your City!

Storm drains are important to prevent flooding during our rainy seasons, but unfortunately are at risk of localized flooding hazards. Trash, leaves, plastic debris, pollutants like motor oil or fertilizers can easily accumulate in our streets and neighborhoods, which can end up contaminating the Bay and ocean, or clogging our drains when it rains. Fortunately, there’s a way we can prevent this from happening. The Adopt-A-Drain Program enables residents to help cities keep their drains clean. Currently, residents in Belmont, Burlingame, and San Mateo have official programs where residents can volunteer to adopt a drain on their block and commit to keeping it clear of flooding and pollutants.

How does it work?

Signing up to adopt a drain is very easy, simple, and fun! First, find a drain in your city that you’d like to ‘adopt,’ which basically means you will commit to keeping the top of the drain grate clear of leaves and garbage. Next, complete the online application or volunteer registration form. You could even name the drain! Finally, clean and maintain your drain. This can be a fun activity you do with your family, friends, or neighbors to make a difference in your own neighborhood. If you live in Belmont, Burlingame, or San Mateo, visit those linked pages to get more details on the program and how to sign-up. Each of these cities also provide free supplies to help you keep your drain clean.

What if my city doesn’t have an Adopt-A-Drain program?

Let your city know that you’d like to see a program like this in your city! As a resident, your voice matters and you can submit a suggestion to your local councilmember, City Manager’s office, or Public Works Department. Find the contact form for the office or department on their respective websites to make it known you’d like to see a program like this in your area.

Nevertheless, even if your city doesn’t have an official Adopt-A-Drain program, you can still help protect our waterways. If you want to protect your neighborhood from flooding, all you need is a bucket, rubber gloves, and a rake to keep your drain clean. You can also encourage your community to do the same by posting about your efforts on social media platforms like Nextdoor.

Small actions like keeping our neighborhood drains clean make a big difference, especially if we encourage others to take part too. As stewards of the environment, we can keep our local community clean if we work together. RethinkWaste encourages residents to take small actions because every little action adds up to make a big impact.

If you’re looking for other ways to get involved and make a difference this Earth Month, consider participating in our Litter Challenge! If you live in the RethinkWaste service area* you might even win a prize for participating!

*RethinkWaste service area includes: Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Parts of Unincorporated San Mateo County, and West Bay Sanitary District

Recycling Truck Catches Fire in San Mateo

On April 2, 2021, a Recology San Mateo County rear end loader truck carrying recyclables experienced a fire at approximately 5:20 a.m. The driver is safe, though the truck could not be recovered due to fire damage. The fire occurred on East Santa Inez Ave near Highland Ave in San Mateo. The City of San Mateo Police and Fire departments arrived on scene and extinguished the fire inside the truck as well as some minor burning of bushes near the truck location. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

While we don’t know the exact cause of the fire that occurred inside the truck, it could have easily been due to a lithium-ion battery that was incorrectly placed into the recycling. RethinkWaste continues to emphasize the need for safe and proper disposal to avoid the hazards of fires, which can result in safety risks for our workers, environment, and even facility. In September 2016, our Shoreway Environmental Center’s Materials Recovery Faility suffered a four-alarm fire that caused nearly $8.5 million in damages likely due to a lithium-ion battery.

For tips or best practices on safe battery disposal, please visit RethinkBatteries.org and our social media channels for information.

The Benefits of a Circular Economy

If you’ve heard the term “circular economy,” you probably know that the system’s goal is to make waste virtually nonexistent. The name describes its meaning – a circular economy is a closed loop system where a product is made and reused until its true end of its life. This is very different from our society’s linear system where products are made, used, and then disposed of.

For example, consider a pair of jeans that have recently ripped. Nowadays, mending jeans has almost become a best-case scenario. In a linear system, those ripped jeans would get donated or landfilled and a new pair of jeans would be purchased. However, a circular economy would have a vastly different approach: the denim from the old jeans could be collected and re-purchased by manufacturers who would use the material to make more jeans. With a more environmentally-friendly approach, a circular economy sounds promising! However, circular economies are challenging to instill.

For starters, a true circular economy has no waste­. Zero waste generation is already difficult for individuals, let alone on larger scales. Additionally, the quality of some materials deteriorate as they are remade, like plastics. A circular economy would move away from convenient products and toward products with longevity. Finally, circular economies often come with a large upfront cost. Transitions within companies may require a change in supplier and/or infrastructure. Still, a 2015 study found that a circular economy could be worth $4.5 trillion by 2030 if businesses prioritized “circular supplies, resource recovery, product life extension, sharing platforms, and product-as-a-service.”

Despite a few potential challenges, many companies see the value in moving toward a circular economy. Here are some examples of circular economy approaches that large companies are using now:

  1. Reusable Packaging for Everyday Items: As many companies focus on making their products more “environmentally friendly” by incorporating recyclable packing, others are flipping that model on its head. By making the conscious decision to package products in reusable containers, businesses ensure that their packaging will continue to be in use. There are even companies that put products from well-known brands that we already love and trust – from a favorite ice cream brand to a beloved haircare brand – into reusable containers! When the product is empty, consumers send the container back to be cleaned and either request a refill or are refunded the deposit. Companies like this set the precedent for making widespread reuse possible for modern brands.
  2. Focusing on Repair: Other companies are popularizing sustainable material use by focusing on “repair” instead of “replace.” These organizations showcase a closed loop system by fixing old and/or worn items from their brand. Despite being able to capitalize on those seeking to buy new items to replace their old gear, there are some companies choosing to minimize waste by mending fabric that is already in existence. These companies extend the lifecycle of their clothing by giving store credit for old or broken textiles, mending the items, and reselling them at a discount.
  3. Innovative Reuse: Yet another approach to closing the loop is to think outside the box: how can old materials be made into a completely different item? Look no further than the tech industry, where brands are trying to reduce electronic waste with innovative ideas. From “pollution printer ink” made of soot from diesel generators to a jewelry collection made using gold recovered from old laptops, the circular economy approach shows that we can create value from materials that already exist, without having to add many new resources!

Manufacturers play a large role in moving toward a circular economy, but consumers can also help by changing our everyday habits. Recycling is a step toward closing the loop, but we can do even more! To most efficiently use materials, we should try and limit our own waste and support businesses working to do the same.

Exploring Fashion’s Waste And The Ways To Reduce It

When we think of our waste stream, we often focus on daily-use items associated with food such as bottles, cans, paper, food scraps, straws, and plastic film. However, we may often neglect thinking about another source of waste that we also use every day: clothing. Perhaps you have never thrown a clothing item into your garbage, but nonetheless one garbage truck worth of textiles is wasted every second.

One of the main reasons we do not realize how much clothing ends up in landfills is that there is significant waste created even before consumer purchase. This waste, also known as upstream waste, consists of discarded material that does not become part of a finished garment. On the downstream end, clothing in poor condition that are sent to donation centers may also end up in the landfill. Another environmental impact of clothing production less visible to consumers, is the large amounts of water it takes to make clothing. On average, making just one cotton t-shirt requires approximately 2,700 liters of water. Fortunately, there are many ways to curb our waste associated with clothing.

Reduce Clothing Consumption

Stopping fashion waste can be thought of like stopping an overflowing bathtub. The first and most important step is to turn off the faucet! In this case, the faucet is our global annual production of 80 billion pieces of clothing! As an individual, the best way to help is to limit how many new clothing items you purchase. Of course, this is easier said than done, but here are several strategies that can help.

  • Limit yourself to a certain number of clothing purchases per year. This strategy works well if you know you buy a lot of clothing each year and need a tangible target to help limit yourself.
  • Only visit clothing stores when you need a specific clothing item. Remember that online stores count too!
  • When you do purchase clothing, limit waste by purchasing secondhand. This prevents an unwanted item from going to the landfill, but it also avoids all the upstream waste associated with the production of new clothing.
  • If you have to purchase new, try to buy durable clothing that you know you will enjoy for a long period of time. Look out for brands that are very transparent about the environmental impact of their production, as these companies make a large effort to reduce their impact and treat their workers fairly.

Extend Clothing Life

After long exposure to the elements and a certain number of washes, some clothes may have a few holes or a tear, but this doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. With just a needle and some thread, we can extend the life of our garments. Extending the life of a piece of clothing by just nine months can reduce its environmental impact by 20 to 30%! Another way to extend the life of your clothing is to repurpose it into a different clothing item. For example, a t-shirt can easily be turned into a tank top or a pair of pants can be turned into shorts.

If an article of clothing no longer fits you or your taste in style has changed, there are likely many other people that can still appreciate it. Here are a few different ways to extend the life of your clothing.

  • Give to a friend or family member
  • Participate in a clothing swap (or organize your own with friends, family or co-workers!)
  • Sell at an online secondhand clothing market or platforms such as Craigslist or Ebay
  • Donate to a thrift store or donation center
  • Repurpose into other items such as rags to clean around the house, a cloth napkin, or even stitch together into a reusable bag!

Clothing Disposal

Unfortunately, some clothing does eventually reach a stage where it cannot be passed on to somebody else or fixed. There are some brands and stores that have drop-off locations to recycle clothing. This should be the last-ditch option because recycling clothing is energy intensive and companies are only able to recycle a very small fraction of the textiles they collect for recycling.

The fashion industry has significant environmental and social impacts, but curbing our impact does not mean we have to give up clothing or sacrifice our sense of style. While it may take more effort to look for used or sustainably sourced clothing, refreshing old clothes and finding a new home or use for retired clothing, it is a process that can be fun, rewarding, and most importantly will help protect our natural resources!