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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

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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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.

2020 – 2021 Holiday Schedule & Tree Collection

Holiday Schedule

Recology San Mateo County is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day so employees can enjoy the holidays with their families.

Compost, recycling, and garbage collection will be delayed by one day for Friday customers for the week of these two holidays. If your regular collection day falls on Friday, December 25th and Friday, January 1st your collection will be moved to the next day (Saturday, December 26th and Saturday, January 2nd). Please see the calendar below for schedule change.

Regular collection service by Recology will resume the week of Monday, January 4, 2021.

Tree Collection

Please remove all tinsel, lights, decorations, and stands from your holiday tree.

For single-family household residents:

Leave the tree next to your green Compost Cart and Recology will pick it up for you between January 1st and January 31st on your regular collection day.

For apartment and condominium residents:

Property Managers need to schedule a tree collection in advance between January 2nd and January 31st, on behalf of the entire complex. Please contact Recology to schedule your tree collection! Holiday trees will be collected in centrally located piles and in existing on-site compost containers for no additional charge between January 2nd and January 31st. Tree collections after January 31st, if not placed in existing compost containers, are subject to additional fees.

For more information visit our Holiday Tree page.

Plastic: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a webinar about plastic on October 27, 2020. This page provides the webinar recording, presentation slides, links to more resources, and all of the questions submitted by attendees. If you have additional questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

Learning the history of plastic and staying informed on the issues it brings in our own community is the first step to face the plastic crisis. We hope you find the following resources helpful in making informed decisions when it comes to plastic, curbing your own plastic use, and supporting plastic legislation.

To view a recording of the webinar and the live Q&A, click the recording below.

1. Where does black plastic come from and why is it so bad?

Black plastic is often used for takeout containers, plastic utensils, and packaging. It’s often found as a single-use plastic, plastic that is designed to only be used once before being disposed. Black plastic is considered “bad” because it often isn’t able to be recycled. Black plastic usually can’t be recycled for a few different reasons. First, it cannot be identified using optical sorters, which is common technology that Materials Recovery Facilities across the United States use to identify the different types of plastic. Additionally, there is little to no market for black plastic, in other words, very few companies are buying back black plastic to be recycled.

2. Why can’t we recycle more plastic in the medical field, hotel/motels, and hot lunch programs?

Recycling only works if there are markets for all of these materials. One of the big reasons we don’t recycle everything is that not everything has a market. Another possible reason that we don’t see much recycling in these different fields could be regulations. Especially with the medical field where there are regulations surrounding what they can and can’t do with waste. As for businesses, often it’s up to the owner to establish a recycling program. Luckily business owners and schools can receive help on setting up programs through their waste service provider.

3. I find that I’m in the minority when it comes to recycling & composting. Can you work with schools so that they teach students how to recycle? If students learn how to recycle at school, they can bring that info. back to their homes.

RethinkWaste has a whole team devoted to working with schools. Our Environmental Education Team mostly focuses on educating and implementing programs at public elementary schools in the RethinkWaste service area with the goal of reaching all students across the service area. Additionally, the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability also works to educate students in our community.

4. What can local electeds do policy-wise to make a difference?

Local elected officials can support local ordinances that help reduce plastic in our environment, including San Mateo County’s Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance that is aimed to reduce the amount of disposable food service ware, especially those made of plastic, from food facilities in the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. Currently four cities in the County have also adopted this ordinance.

5. How is it possible for 1000 tons of plastic to accidentally enter the ocean through SMC residents?

This statistic was found by research conducted through the Thrive Alliance. Here is the link to the report if you are interested in learning more: https://www.thrivealliance.org/env-news-blog/storyofplastic.

6. I participated in the Coastal Clean Up day, which due to COVID-19, was held within our respective communities. After 90 minutes we had 6 large bags of trash. At the end of the pickup, we drove to the Rethink collection center. The fee at the drop off center was substantial. Would RethinkWaste consider a partnership with Coastal Clean Up where residents within the JPA get a discount on this day?

This has not been previously considered, but please contact us directly at info@rethinkwaste.org. Note that there are mechanisms in place where cities can collect the waste picked up during public cleanup events such as Coastal Cleanup and have it collected by the waste hauler.

7. In addition to the Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance, what local initiatives, organizations or resources would you recommend for folks looking to help create change around plastic in San Mateo County?

8. Do you currently have an established program to communicate with San Mateo/Foster City area restaurants not to use the black plastic specifically? If not, we are thinking maybe my local community can volunteer to help.

We do not, but reach out to us and we can help. We also recommend reaching out to the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability via their Sustainability Academy.

9. How about the #4 soft plastic that you can drop off at Safeway. Does that get recycled?

This depends. The drop-off recycling program at grocery stores for flimsy plastics like plastic bags and plastic wrap are completely independent programs. For us at RethinkWaste, we no longer collect plastic bags at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center because we haven’t been able to find any markets for it. As we noted earlier, items are only recyclable if someone will purchase the material and recycle it into something else. These other programs may have markets, but it really depends by location. Check with your local store to inquire about where their collected flimsy plastics currently go.

10. Who do I speak to about getting recycling into the medical field, specifically who is producing these disposable items?

Our advice would be to do your research and seek help when possible. If you know anyone that works at your local clinic or hospital, they could connect you to the person in charge of purchasing. Also, you can do research on the supplies that are used in the medical field and the manufacturers to see if there are other options instead of disposable or if there are takeback/recycling options for these supplies.

11. If you do a full life-cycle analysis to consider plastic alternatives, how does it pencil out in terms of carbon footprint and GHGs considering glass and metal weighs more than plastic so shipping products in glass etc. may actually be a bigger footprint?

We do not have an answer to this question. However, here is a good article about the differences between glass, metal, and plastic packaging: https://earth911.com/living-well-being/recycled-beverage-containers/.

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

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Why Recycling is Not the Same Everywhere

If you pay close attention to recycling, you’ve probably noticed that what’s accepted one place is not necessarily accepted in the next town over. For example, in the RethinkWaste service area (Burlingame to East Palo Alto) we do NOT accept plastic bags in the recycling, while in San Francisco they do.

It may be easier for residents if recycling was standardized, but there are reasons why it’s not the same everywhere. Two of the main reasons for the variation in recycling are: markets and community differences.

Markets

Markets dictate what can and cannot be recycled. When you put something into your blue recycling cart, there are multiple steps in the process before an item can actually get recycled. First, recyclables head to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). While at the MRF, all recyclables are separated by material type (i.e. glass, metal, cardboard, paper, etc..). After being separated, each individual material is marketed and sold to different companies, both domestically and internationally. It’s at these facilities that recycling actually occurs, and items are transformed into something new and useful.

Without a destination (or an end market) where materials can be made into something new, “recyclables” wouldn’t be actually “recycled.” Markets are dependent on many factors including location, time, and material type, just to name a few. Markets change from location to location because manufacturing companies have put factories in different places. For example, if there are several paper mills in Arizona, but none in Michigan, it’s going to be much more difficult for MRFs in Michigan to find a market for their paper.

Markets also change over time and can have larger global shifts, such as China’s National Sword policy, which has had a major impact on the recycling industry. Additionally, some materials simply have more stable markets than others. For example, plastics #1 and #2 (water bottles, laundry detergent containers, etc.) tend to have very consistent markets, while other plastics have more unstable markets meaning they may not get recycled. Plastic #1 & #2 have a variety of markets and can be made into carpet, clothing, rope, construction materials, toys, recycling bins, and of course bottles. These variations in markets make it difficult to accept the same materials for recycling everywhere.

Community Differences

In addition to markets, community differences also contribute to the variation we see in recycling.

Everything that makes our communities distinct can also have an impact on the waste system that develops. One major factor that must be considered is the size of the community. For smaller, more rural communities there can be serious barriers hindering a recycling program. While larger, more urban communities tend to have more robust recycling systems. With a smaller community comes a less dense population making curbside recycling less fiscally sound. Typically smaller, rural communities rely on recycling drop off, which usually results in lower participation rates.

Along with less funding, is a lack of local markets. Typically, rural communities are further away from markets and transportation can be an expensive barrier for the community. Trucking costs vary by weight, the heavier the material the more costly it will be to transport. Where it may be possible to truck plastic 400 miles to be recycled, it might not be the same for glass, which is much heavier.

In addition to funding and markets, communities may also focus on different priorities. In the RethinkWaste area (and greater Bay Area), many believe that environmental protection should be a top priority, but that does not always hold true for the rest of the nation. These differences in population size, funding, and values play a large role in if items can be recycled.

What does this mean for you?

Now you know that recycling is not always equal. Whenever you travel or relocate, be sure to look for your local recycling guides (you can find ours here). Don’t be afraid to seek help or ask questions and reach out to local organizations if you are confused about what goes where.

Remember, recycling may not always be easy, but it is always worth it!

Beyond Recycling: The Other “R’s” Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste and Recology San Mateo County held a webinar on June 30, 2020. This page provides the webinar recording, presentation slides, links to more resources, and all of the questions submitted. If you have more questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

To view a recording of the webinar and the live Q&A, click the recording below.

1. Where does black plastic come from and why is it so bad?

Black plastic is often used for takeout containers, plastic utensils, and packaging. It’s often found as a single-use plastic, plastic that is designed to only be used once before being disposed. Black plastic is considered “bad” because it often isn’t able to be recycled. Black plastic usually can’t be recycled for a few different reasons. First, it cannot be identified using optical sorters, which is common technology that Materials Recovery Facilities across the United States use to identify the different types of plastic. Additionally, there is little to no market for black plastic, in other words, very few companies are buying back black plastic to be recycled.

2. Why can’t we recycle more plastic in the medical field, hotel/motels, and hot lunch programs?

Recycling only works if there are markets for all of these materials. One of the big reasons we don’t recycle everything is that not everything has a market. Another possible reason that we don’t see much recycling in these different fields could be regulations. Especially with the medical field where there are regulations surrounding what they can and can’t do with waste. As for businesses, often it’s up to the owner to establish a recycling program. Luckily business owners and schools can receive help on setting up programs through their waste service provider.

3. I find that I’m in the minority when it comes to recycling & composting. Can you work with schools so that they teach students how to recycle? If students learn how to recycle at school, they can bring that info. back to their homes.

RethinkWaste has a whole team devoted to working with schools. Our Environmental Education Team mostly focuses on educating and implementing programs at public elementary schools in the RethinkWaste service area with the goal of reaching all students across the service area. Additionally, the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability also works to educate students in our community.

4. What can local electeds do policy-wise to make a difference?

Local elected officials can support local ordinances that help reduce plastic in our environment, including San Mateo County’s Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance that is aimed to reduce the amount of disposable food service ware, especially those made of plastic, from food facilities in the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. Currently four cities in the County have also adopted this ordinance.

5. Should we put shredded paper in paper or plastic bags?

Put shredded paper in a closed paper bag labelled “Shredded Paper,” to avoid it from flying around and becoming litter.

6. What is the smallest size for a ball of tinfoil that is accepted? Does clean aluminum foil ball go to recycle? What about food soiled aluminum foil?

Combine small pieces of clean (free of food) tinfoil together so they make a larger tinfoil ball. Clean aluminum goes into your recycling cart. If foil is food-soiled, try your best to empty the crumbs or food remnants in the compost, and then ball up the foil, food side on the inside to ensure any leftover food stays inside to not soil the rest of your recycling.

7. Do plastic net bags for onions and potatoes go in the recycling cart?

No, plastic net bags for produce go into the garbage.

8. Can old lightbulbs be put in my orange battery bin?

No, lightbulbs do not belong in the orange battery bucket. If you have an incandescent lightbulb, they can be thrown in the garbage. If you have a fluorescent lightbulb, these lights container mercury and must be brought to a local drop off location such as a hardware store where it can be disposed of properly. You can find drop off locations for fluorescent lights and LED lights at RecycleStuff.org.

9. Are spiral bound notebooks recyclable?

Yes, spiral bound notebooks can go in the recycling cart.

10. Are small plastic sauce containers that are from restaurants and have the #1-7 recyclable?

As long as the plastic containers have a chasing arrows sign with the number 1-7 on it, it can go in the recycling.

11. What do I do with the bubble wrap envelopes? Also, what’s the best way to get rid of styrofoam?

Sometimes bubble wrap envelopes have a “Store Drop-off” label on it, which usually means you can bring it to a participating store that takes it back to get recycled. If it does not have that label, it goes into the garbage.

12. Can you talk about thin plastic?

Thin, flimsy plastic refers to cling wrap, zip-top bags, or other crinkly plastics like plastic bags. These plastics DO NOT go into the recycling cart because they jam the machines at the Shoreway recycling facility. If you cannot reuse them, they go into the garbage.

13. Are rubberbands recyclable?

Rubberbands are not recyclable but they can be reused.

14. How much of the good plastic you take in is actually recycled and used in products again? What percentage of plastic is just going to landfills?

About 83% of the material that comes to our recycling facility goes on to get recycled, including plastic mixed paper, cardboard, glass, and metals, leaving 17% of the remaining material going to landfill. We currently do not have a breakdown of how much of the total plastic that comes through the facility is recycled versus going to landfill.

15. Where do plastic and metal bottle caps go?

We ask that you keep plastic and metal bottle caps attached to their bottle and put the whole item in the recycling. If bottle caps are loose in your cart, they are likely to get littered into the street when your carts are being serviced.

16. What do you advise as best option for disposing of e-waste?

You can bring select electronic waste to GreenCitizen in Burlingame at no charge or hold onto it until the Shoreway Public Recycling Center is open for free disposal.

17. Where does wood go?

If the wood is clean, untreated wood, it can go into the compost cart as long as it is cut down to fit inside the cart so the lid can close. If the wood is treated or has paint on it, it must go in the garbage.

18. Is waxed cardboard recyclable?

Waxed cardboard goes into your compost cart.

19. Are receipts recyclable?

No, receipts are made up more than one material and contain BPA chemicals, so they go in the garbage.

20. Where do tissues used to wipe wet hands go?

Tissues used to wipe wet hands are soiled paper so they can go into the compost.

21. Are there any other items that you commonly see recycled or composted that shouldn’t be?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves and masks, along with plastic bags and film have been found in all three carts, but they belong in only the garbage cart.

22. Does 100% cotton scrap fabric go in the compost?

Textiles of any type are not accepted in any of your three carts. You can find places to donate unwanted textiles at RecycleStuff.org.

23. Can flimsy plastic go in the plastic shopping bag containers at the grocery stores?

Yes, if grocery stores are accepting plastic bags to recycle, you can bring them there to get recycled.

24. Where do I start? What will help me reduce the most amount of waste?

Start small, by switching out one single-use item with a reusable one. For example, start with saying no to straws, and once that becomes a habit, move to utensils. Try doing a waste audit to see what you throw out the most. Check your recycling bin too, as reducing items you throw into the recycling also has a very positive impact. Also try examining items around your house, and start with an item that you feel that you can reduce your use of/repair/replace with a reusable option.

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

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The Importance of Recycling and Composting

Every day we face the choice of properly sorting our waste into our three carts. With proper sorting, there should be more items in your blue recycling and green compost carts than in your black garbage cart. But why does this matter? Recycling and composting have important environmental benefits and understanding why they matter goes a long way in keeping us motivated to sort correctly!

Recycling saves energy and conserves resources

One great thing about recycling is that it has been pivotal in reducing the amount of waste sent to the landfill. From 1999 to 2018, the annual amount of waste sent to the landfill in San Mateo County dropped by 32% despite an 8% increase in population size and significant economic growth.

Material that is sent to the landfill stays there forever, whereas material that is recycled can be turned into new products. By making new products from recycled materials, we also reduce demand for virgin materials, which is important because we live on a planet with finite resources! By reducing demand for virgin materials, we also save the energy that would have been used to extract and process those resources from our environment.

Even with the energy needed to process our recyclable materials at our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and energy needed to turn our recyclables into new products, there is still a net energy saving from recycling! Saving energy means less CO2 emissions, which contribute to climate change by acting as a heat trapping blanket in our atmosphere. Here are some of the energy savings from different materials:

  • Recycling one 20 oz plastic bottle = energy to power one CFL lightbulb for 10.3 hours
    • Recycling one ream of printer paper (500 sheets) = energy to power a typical laptop for 49 hours

Recycling glass and aluminum is especially important because they can be recycled over and over again!

  • Recycling one 12 oz glass bottle = energy to power one CFL lightbulb for 5.3 hours
    • Recycling one aluminum can = energy to power a typical laptop for 5.8 hours

Composting prevents climate change and improves our soils

Composting also plays an important role in diverting waste from our landfill, and actually plays an even bigger role than recycling in our service area. In 2018, the Shoreway Environmental Center received 120,000 tons of organic material, which was about 50% more in weight than the amount of recyclable material received.

Furthermore, diverting organic material is arguably even more important than diverting recyclable material because when organic material enters the landfill, it breaks down and releases a gas known as methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change in the same way that CO2 does, but has a warming effect 34 times stronger than CO2! Composting just one ton of organic waste has the same emission reductions as taking a car off the road for two months, which means that in 2018 the RethinkWaste service area composted enough organic waste to reduce emissions equivalent to taking over 22,000 cars off of the road.  In addition to diverting waste from landfills and reducing harmful emissions, finished compost has many environmental benefits as a soil additive, including reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, improving soil water retention, and assisting in erosion control.

While recycling and composting play only a small role in protecting our planet, everyone can contribute to taking better care of it by taking full advantage of these wonderful systems we have in place.

So next time when you go to sort your waste, remember that diverting compostable or recyclable items from the landfill helps us use our wonderful resources to their full advantage. You can also remember the energy you can save by turning your items into new ones when you recycle right or that composting your organic waste will help improve our soils to grow our next meals!

To learn more about energy savings and emissions reductions from recycling and composting, check out these resources:

·        https://www.epa.gov/warm/individual-waste-reduction-model-iwarm-tool

·        http://www.stopwaste.co/calculator/

5 Tips for Managing Your Recycling, Compost & Garbage

[1] The Sorting Hat

Not sure what goes where? Check out WhatBin.com to learn what materials belong in each cart. Think you’re a master sorter? Test out your skills with our Interactive Carts Game.

[2] Let’s Break It Down

Optimize space in your blue recycling cart by keeping recyclables loose (not bagged) and breaking down boxes.

Remember that you are able to place all recyclables in the same cart—this includes cardboard, clean paper products, glass bottles and jars, metals, and plastics containers #1-7. Shredded paper may be placed inside a paper bag labeled “shredded paper.”

Please make sure lids are completely closed to prevent items from falling out of your cart.

[3] Bag Your Garbage Before You Toss It

Do your part to keep drivers safe and reduce litter. Garbage should be secured in bags to prevent unwanted critters and materials from blowing onto the street. Make sure all garbage fits inside your cart, with the lid completely closed.

[4] Save Your Donations

Put reusable items aside for now. Once Shelter-In-Place restrictions are lifted, donate reusable goods to a local charity, non-profit, family or friend. They will appreciate the donation, and it won’t go to the landfill. You can also find a location for your donatable items at: RecycleStuff.org

[5] Roll Out!

Place residential carts out by 6:00 a.m. on your service day. Drivers may pick up carts earlier or later due to temporary routing changes. Carts should be put away within 24 hours of service. Remember to position carts two feet apart to allow automated trucks to collect carts efficiently.

2019 – 2020 Holiday Collection Schedule

Recology San Mateo County is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day so employees can enjoy the holidays with their families.

Compost, recycling, and garbage collection will be delayed by one day for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday customers for the week of these two holidays. If your regular collection day falls on Wednesday, December 25th and Wednesday, January 1st your collection will be moved to the next day (Thursday, December 26th and Thursday, January 2nd). If your collection usually falls on Thursday, place your containers out on Friday, December 27th and Friday, January 3rd. Friday customers will have their carts serviced on Saturday. Please see the calendar below for complete schedule.

Regular collection service by Recology will resume the week of Monday, January 6, 2020.

The Hard Facts About Plastic

The recycling industry is under a microscope with the recent market changes and the impacts are being felt by the community. Whether it’s buyback closures, pollution, or landfilling seemingly ‘recyclable’ material, plastic is at the forefront of these conversations. In this post, we will address common questions that we receive regarding plastic and the issues plastics pose within the recycling industry.

1. What makes recycling plastic so difficult?

You know that triangle symbol that we’ve known to associate with recycling? It is commonly used as a symbol on the side of a bin to encourage people to recycle. It is also usually found on the underside of different plastic items. The triangle symbols on plastic products does NOT mean the product is recyclable. The chasing-arrow triangles with numbers inside is the resin identification code, which indicates the type of plastic the product is made of with numbers ranging from #1-7. This leads to confusion among the public, since many items are mistaken to be recyclable when they are not.

2. Which plastics are recyclable?

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.

3. Are any of the numbers in the triangles difficult to recycle?

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.

4. Which plastic is not recyclable in the RethinkWaste service area and why?

Items such as plastic utensils, black-colored plastic, straws, plastic hangers, plastic bags, and polystyrene foam (also known as Styrofoam) do not belong in the recycling cart. These items can damage facility equipment and cannot be accurately or efficiently captured due to their size. In addition, RethinkWaste does not currently have an existing or stable market to sell these materials to, as they are also low-quality plastic.

When we talk about recycling and what items are “recyclable,” we mean that materials can be turned into something else and as long as there is a market for the materials. With plastic at the forefront of recycling conversations, it forces us to take a hard look at what is and is not actually marketable, and in turn allows us to make informed decisions for ourselves. Since we now know which plastics are marketable, we have the choice to refuse these plastics in our lives or to reuse them instead.

More information can be found on our “The Hard Facts About Plastics” fact sheet.

Have more questions about recycling or plastics? Shoot us a note below!

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