Bay Area: Get Better at the Bin!

That means no liquid or food in the blue bin.
As we know, China has tightened its restrictions on accepted recyclables, requiring that the imported bales of paper and plastic have less than 1% impurities, a very difficult thing to achieve. But San Francisco is working hard to meet that challenge.
Once paper is contaminated with food or liquids, it’s harder for SF to meet those requirements. So give your bottles and containers a rinse and let them air dry before tossing them into the recycling bin. According to their new campaign at, “It keeps paper in recycling bins drier so more can be recycled. Higher-quality paper bales generate revenue that helps pay for curbside collection programs. Those economics benefit everyone.” – Recology.
It’s also important to emphasize that recycling is not the most sustainable option and that not all forms of plastic are recyclable. Recology’s spokesperson Robert Reed states, “Currently there are no markets for plastic bags and other film or flimsy plastics such as plastic wrap. That is why we encourage people to keep a reusable tote bag at the ready when shopping. Drinking straws are dimensionally small and lightweight and therefore difficult to capture in recycling plants. There are no current markets for the type of plastic they are made from. Metal straws that can be reused or paper straws that can be composted are easy solutions for people who need straws. Of course, the most environmental option is no straw. We are still in the very early stages of exploring fabric recycling. While there are established recycling markets for clean paper, cardboard, steel cans, aluminum cans and glass bottles, markets are much less developed or extensive for fabrics. We are testing pulling fabrics off the line at the sorting facility, bailing the product and sending test loads to see if sustainable markets can be developed. If people no longer want clothes, shoes and accessories still in good condition, we encourage donation to the many charitable organizations, including thrift stores, in San Francisco.” (Potrero View, 2019). (1)
Now this may seem counterintuitive. Recycling is not a truly sustainable option as we have witnessed time and time again. Recycling promotes the idea that single-use items are acceptable as a convenience instead of only something to be used when necessary. And worse, recycling plastic cannot exist in a circular economy, at some point, plastics will break down to a point where they are no longer usable: they will eventually end up in landfill (or the ocean).
So why even talk about recycling? Because at this point in our society, in this area, it is still a necessary evil. Contributing plastic materials, or anything really, to landfill, is the not a sustainable option, we are running out of room in our landfills and the methane produced from landfills, if not captured, is toxic to our environment. Of course there is still an option worse than landfill: just chucking your trash on the ground or into the ocean. But we would never do that, right?
My point is, I would rather see Californians (and everyone) to take the time to sort their trash. Why? It makes you conscious of it. It makes you responsible for it. It’s so easy to grab a trash bag and load it up with anything cluttering your counters or drawers like handfuls of junk mail, wads of wet paper towels, empty cans of sticky drinks, and maybe even some leftover food from last night. Just dump it all in and be done with it. Well, I think that this mentality (something I was also guilty of and still catch myself starting to do sometimes) is another form of convenience laziness. Just like buying a $3 water bottle from 7-11 instead of carrying my reusable is convenience laziness, not being responsible for your trash is possibly just as bad.
When I started my zero waste process, I got rid of trash bags. If I couldn’t compost or recycle something, I walked it outside to my trash bin with each individual item. It wasn’t punishment, it was processing. I was looking at an item, lets say a bubble mailer from Amazon I had ripped beyond reuse, thinking about its purpose, as I walked about 30 seconds to the trash. What was this crap made of? Why was it not recyclable? Why did I rip it so hard that I damaged it beyond reuse, I should be more careful next time. Since I’m paying for my trash and recycle pick up, from a purely monetary stance, why is this bastard company making me pay and pollute the planet? This is probably some of the incidents that inspired my first Zero Waste Amazon campaign. I wanted Amazon to give consumers the option for zero waste packaging on as many products as possible, something I later found out was already available in other countries like Germany, which was even more upsetting. Why not us?
Recycling should be similar. What are you recycling? Why? If its cardboard, can you compost it? I get it, sometimes that’s too much for backyard composters. Can you reuse it? Can you call UPS and see if they can reuse your packaging? Some can reuse bubble wrap – something notoriously hard to recycle.
If we are conscious and careful with our recycling, doing our best to rinse out containers so that any paper its mixed with stays clean, we will be paying more attention to what we’re discarding from our house, which may influence our purchasing decisions in the future.
Does this work? Japan seems to think so. The country is loaded with vending machines on just about every block in the cities and in some the oddest and most remote places. However, public trash cans are hard, almost impossible, to find, but these vending machines usually provide what looks like two recycle bins: one for cans/glass and one for plastic. (Hint: to learn the secret to finding a trash can in Japan, go to 2:45 in this video)
But both bin openings lead to the same bin. The consumer using either opening is pointless, so why have it? According to locals, it is just to make the consumer conscious of the materials they are using.
Still, Japan relies heavily on plastic packaging from the PET-plastic single-use bottles to their near addiction to plastic wrap – used not just to seal and preserve food but to also shape foods like tamagoyaki and onigiri.
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