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California’s Recycling Is Becoming Unsustainable

By Larraine Roulston: 

Recycling has emerged as a bustling new industry investing in job opportunities that include collection, source separation, innovating products with recycled content, and providing continuous public education. By recycling, fewer resources are sent to landfills. As well as being more energy and water efficient, in comparison to the extraction of virgin materials, recycling produces less carbon emission. Enthusiastic citizens worldwide continue to embrace the concept and are major suppliers through urban, rural and workplace collection systems.

 Sadly, Californias recycling programs are now at risk. While many of its residents continue to feel good about recycling, Mark Oldfield, director of the states recycling program, says that its little more than “wish recycling.” Most of what ends up in recycling depots cannot be processed. Oldfield told the Los Angeles Times, “Its amazing what people put in recycling bins. Dirty diapers. Broken crockery. Old garden hoses. Some of the worst offenders are old batteries.

 Not only are unwanted materials clogging recycling equipment, but also many good recyclables, such as greasy cardboard, non-rinsed food jars and bird droppings on newspapers, become problematic. These items require additional effort to separate and they also can cause contamination of entire batches of otherwise clean loads of recyclables.

The second issue is China’s recent rejection of recycled materials.  And rightly so! Other countries’ exports became so unacceptable that China was forced to adhere to much tighter regulations, stating that “if something is one-half of 1 percent contaminated, its too impure for recycling.”

 Another factor is that markets for recycled materials are becoming more uncertain. Packages may say “recyclable,” but some are difficult to sell; and if there is no world market for them, they most likely will end up in landfills. Some recyclables, such as glass jars, however, might get crushed and stockpiled in a recycling depot awaiting for more favorable conditions.

 Like any other business, the recycling industry is volatile. Over the years more items have been included; however, unless we recycle them all correctly, we default to a failing recycling system that places the onus on local governments to deal with decreasing revenue. Fluctuating oil prices, public educational requirements to keep pace, and customer demand for recycled products all play a role in its success or failure.

 Regarding “reduce,Leyla Acaroglu, author of System Failures: Planned Obsolescence and Enforced Disposability,Our daily lives are now predominantly scripted and defined by single-use throwaway stuff. Think of how any of your normal daily interactions involve an enforced aspect of disposability.

 One solution is to follow TreeHuggers advice to direct people towards a Zero Waste living  lifestyle. It is indeed possible to create a societal change simply by walking into work with our morning beverages in reusable cups and viewing those with disposable cups as being out of step with the reality of global warming.

 California is not alone. Other areas also are experiencing similar recycling challenges. Educating the public needs to be further emphasized to ensure individuals provide their local municipalities with clean marketable recyclables. Citizens, too, can use their power of purchase to eliminate disposable items, return to the bottle deposit systems, as well as force corporations to redesign their merchandise to align with a circular economy. Reduce, Refuse, Refill and Rethink to alleviate the pressure from Recycling.

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Larraine writes childrens illustrated adventure stories on composting and pollinating. Visit, www.castlecompost.com 

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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