California exports about 1/3 of the recyclables it collects to other countries, mainly China- mostly the mixed plastics and paper. Recently, China placed some bans and contamination limits on the recycling they will accept from other countries.  In July 2018, they declared the intent for a full ban on recycling imports by 2020.  This has caused recyclables to stockpile at local recycling facilities, and a huge crash in the market for recyclables- meaning, they just aren’t valuable anymore and are more likely to be trashed even if you’re putting them in your recycling bin.  For example, recently, a county local to me dumped 290 tons of recyclables into the landfill.

Recycling is still better than landfill since there’s the chance it can and will be recycled, but it’s important to recognize it as closer to the disposable/linear mindset instead of a reusable/circular mindset.

reusing + rehoming alternatives

Instead of recycling as the first resort, consider:

reusing the item. For example, using a jar that once housed mustard or pasta sauce to buy bulk in, use as a vase, gift a homemade scrub or food in, or send guests home with leftover food.

rehoming the item with someone in your community. Even if you won’t use it, maybe someone else can. For example- someone that home-brews beer or wine or kombucha might be happy to take those old beer, wine, flip top bottles off your hands. A local artist might be able to make use of those broken pieces of ceramic bowl or tile. The local elementary school might like to reuse cans, newspaper, or bottles to plant seeds in. Connect with neighbors and your community- not only does it promote a sharing + circular economy, it also fosters friendships and strong connections. Here’s some ways to connect your things with local people who might want them:

  • freecycle: post an ad for something you have to give away or something you want and community members can contact you via email and pick up from your door.

  • buy nothing group: community sharing group.

  • craigslist

  • nextdoor: private community sharing space.

  • via community bulletin boards

  • talking to neighbors, businesses, schools

how to recycle trickier items

i. mascara wands:  Send clean old mascara wands to the Appalachian Wildlife Fund for them to get a second life cleaning fly eggs and larva from fur of wild animals.

ii. makeup containers:  drop off makeup containers of any brand at an Origins store for recycling.

iii. clothing:  donate anything wearable to a thrift store, cut rags out of unwearable clothing, or textile recycle the rest.  Nike accepts old athletic shoes, North Face and H&M stores accept any brand of clothing or shoes, in any condition.  Goodwill will recycle any unwearable clothing donated.  Reformation allows you to print a free shipping label and mail them clothing to be recycled or reused.

iv. contacts:  Bausch + Lomb accepts used contacts, blister packs, and the top foil back for recycling.  Simply collect them and print a free label to ship them back for recycling.

v. miscellaneous:  Terracycle offers both free and paid programs for recycling every kind of waste imaginable.

actionable steps

This week, complete the following:

i. Visit your city/waste provider website and look up the curbside recycling rules for your area to familiarize yourself with exactly what is and isn’t accepted (or call them to direct you to the information). Write it down or screenshot it so that you have a reference if you need to- post it on the fridge if that helps. Educate everyone in your household with what you find.

ii. Make sure you + everyone in your household knows how to prepare containers/items for the recycling bin- washing it throughly before placing it in the bin. Unwashed items contaminate the recycling stream at the plant.

iii. Search out locations for recycling items not accepted through curbside- for example is there a drop off location in your community for recycling things like light bulbs, corks, batteries, e-waste, unusable old clothes, hazardous waste?