by Nancy Upham
Do you find your head spinning trying to figure out what is going on with recycling these days? What can you recycle? Where can you recycle it? And where does it go once you have put it in a blue can or dropped it off at a recycling center? You are definitely not alone!
Recently a group of about 10 members of the local Climate Action Group INYO350 decided to try to find out the what, where, and how of recycling in Inyo County. It has taken several months of investigation, but now, for Earth Day, they are ready to share what they have uncovered and learned.
First and foremost, you might ask: after all these years–decades actually–of recycling, why is it so hard to navigate the ins and outs of local recycling? The answer is simply that the world of recycling, around the globe, is changing on a daily basis right now.
A short history of recycling and waste management reveals that before the 20th century there was no need to recycle things, because people avoided waste due to economic needs. They fixed things that were broken, and they found ways to give items a second life once their original purpose was complete. In the 1960s, the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” was introduced to address the challenge of consumer waste and to limit the amount of material going to landfills and incinerators. China has gladly purchased our recyclables for more than 20 years to fuel its manufacturing growth. But in January of 2018, that all changed. Due to massive amounts of contamination in the recycled material that countries were sending to China, they decided to refuse the incoming recycled material and return them to the country of origin. Just like that, the international market for recycled goods virtually dried up, and this has led us to an international crisis of waste management. The problems surrounding this are compounded, since we are a culture addicted to consumables, many of which are single-use plastic items.
To better understand this issue, we first need to define contamination in relation to the world of recycling. Contamination occurs when garbage, food waste or the wrong recyclables are put into recycling carts, bins or containers. When contamination occurs, all that was intended to be recycled ends up in our landfills.
Recycling Done Right
Good intentions are wasted when the wrong materials are put into recycling carts, bins and containers. “Wishful Recyclers” put almost everything in recycling bins hoping that someone will sort out what is appropriate and what is not. Don’t just guess! It is best to know what you are doing, so you don’t add to the contamination of recyclables and run the risk of them being rejected. If you go to INYO350’s website and click the Recycling tab you can access a grid that lists all of the locations in Inyo County where things can be recycled and what can be recycled where. There is also a brochure produced in cooperation with Inyo County that you can print out and post on your fridge. When in doubt, check it out with your recycling agent, such as Inyo County Solid Waste Management or Bishop Waste. The brochures will be available on Earth Day at the INYO350 booth and after that at the Inyo County Offices at 163 May Street in Bishop.
Here is a short list of items that are not currently recyclable, and that should appropriately be put into the trash to go to the landfill.
- plastic bags and film wrap packaging
- “compostable” plastics (not recyclable here)
- plastic plates, utensils, and straws
- take-out coffee cups (they have plastic liners)
- chip bags
- small plastic toys
- plastics with the numbers 3-7 on the bottom
- aluminum foil
- solid Styrofoam
Once you have determined that the plastic, cardboard or glass you are going to recycle is appropriate, it is very important that all food residue be removed from the item to be recycled. Clean it and dry itbefore placing it in a recycling cart, bin or container, therefore avoiding contamination of the entire container.
Reduce – Reuse – Repair – Repurpose – Recycle
Today, with markets for recyclables being so volatile and unpredictable, it is important for each of us to really examine our consuming habits and think about our purchases, including how items are packaged.
Think about how you personally can reduce what you are buying that results in waste. Buy in bulk with a minimum of packaging. Carry a refillable water bottle, coffee cup and drinking glass with a reusable straw. Really think about the single-use plastics that most of us use without even giving it a second thought, such as plastic straws, plastic utensils and take-out coffee cups, all of which end up in our landfills. With a little pre-planning you can figure out how to use reuse items rather than throwing away single-use items. Look around you and notice just how much waste really could be avoided.
Then think about items you could repair or repurpose rather than just disposing of them in favor of something brand new. It’s a new way of thinking for us, but this critical way of thinking may just be part of the really big-picture solution that we need to find—and soon! By reducing the amount that we purchase, we are reducing the number of new items that need to be manufactured, thus reducing the fossil fuels necessary for the production process. At the same time, we’ll have less waste that needs to be hauled and dealt with. When you can, purchase items made from recycled materials. Reducing and reusing are critical life-style changes that we can all make. Recycling is a part of the solution, but it is not the whole answer. Think about how you can be a part of the solution and take a pledge this Earth Day to be a part of that solution!