This is a subject that I feel the need to revisit often. Why? Because I am often confused by the changing recycling environment. I suspect I am not alone.
In 2018, when China banned almost all plastic trash imports, recycling plastic, as we understood it in the US, took on a powerful stink! Our throwaway culture started a horrific back up and our nation was forced to address a problem we had grown accustomed to ignoring, assuming it was going far, far away.
You might say China did us a favor. It woke us up to our complacency. Drawing overdue attention to the way we deal with our waste; our focus is slowly turning to finding workable alternatives. As a result, bans have begun to be implemented on some single-use plastic items, policies are changing where manufacturing practices are concerned, and biodegradable and compostable options are becoming more available. All of these are steps in the right direction; however, the biggest problem, as I see it, is the consumer. That is you, and that is me.
But hey, you came here to learn about recycling and not necessarily to read about my opinions. Ok, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the subject.
First, bookmark this website: www.zerowastesonoma.gov, and save this phone number (707) 565-3375 (Eco-Desk). If you take away nothing else from this article, you will still be well equipped with everything you need to know about recycling in Sonoma County. The website will answer all of your questions and the phone number will provide you with access to a live person, in the unlikelihood your question was not answered on the website.
There you have it; you could stop reading right now! But, if you would instead like a comprehensive summary of the how, what and where of recycling in Sonoma County, the following is information gleaned from a conversation I had with Anita Migliore, a Waste Zero Specialist with Recology Sonoma Marin.
First you need to determine what you are disposing of: Is it garbage (Gray Bin), recyclable (Blue Bin), or compost (Green Bin)? These 3 categories are important because each bin goes to a different area to be processed. If you have more than each of your bins can hold, please arrange for an extra pick-up (for an additional fee), or hold off and dispose of the overflow on your next trash day – do not cross contaminate.
How to recycle the 4 usual suspects: Glass, Metal, Paper/Cardboard, and Plastic
Proper way to use the Blue Recycling Cart – drain all liquids, rinse or wipe out all containers, and please do not bag your recyclables; put them in your recycling cart loose, and keep all caps on the containers. Recyclables go through processors screened with 3” x 3” grid openings. For this reason, you should leave caps on all containers, ball up your aluminum foil to larger than 3” in diameter, and not recycle scraps or shredded paper; these items will fall through the screen and not be captured for recycling. Think of that screen when choosing whether an item is suitable to recycle.
Now, just what is recyclable?
Glass: Food and beverage grade only, empty and rinsed
Bottles (leave caps on)
Jars (leave caps on)
Metal: Empty and rinsed
Aluminum, Tin and Steel/Bi-Metal cans
Aluminum foil and aluminum pans (foil balled to larger than 3”)
Aerosol cans (empty and without pressure)
Paper/Cardboard: Clean and dry, no aseptic cartons
Junk mail and magazines
Office paper (not shredded)
Sticky notes (larger than 3”x 3”)
Wrapping paper (non-metallic)
Plastic: Empty and rinsed, no Styrofoam and no rigid plastic items
Bottles (leave caps on)
Containers (jugs and tubs)
To stress a few key points about what is NOT recyclable, the website reminds us that: “Greasy, grimy, gooey, wet or food-soiled paper goes in your compost cart.” I needed this reminder because it is something I can never remember…pizza box: recycle or compost? With the help of that visually descriptive sentence above, this is now an obvious choice. Compost!
Recycling is becoming more and more restrictive as markets for recycled material have become less available. For this reason, as my plastic choices of the past come to the end of their useful life, I try to find eco-friendly alternatives, putting recycling as my last line of disposal.
I embrace the World War II slogan of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Living within my needs, and not my wants, helps me put my buying power to use in giving manufacturers the message that I am willing to pay more for quality items built with sustainable components, instead of saving money on items that do harm to humans, plants, animals, and our world. I shop for things that will last, things that can be mended or fixed, and lastly, when their end of use is reached, things that can be recycled.
And if you are doing the same then we are becoming part of the solution, and that is a very good start.
My next article will address the topic of bio-plastics, their benefits and problems.