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Educator Describes the Messy Reality of Recyling

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

At PNR’s June 11th meeting, featured speaker Jill Buck, M.A.Ed., delved into the do’s and don'ts of recycling and the geopolitical developments that sparked a crisis for local and worldwide recycling.

Recycling has been a great local success story, noted Buck, an educator and founder of the non-profit Go Green Initiative. The City of Pleasanton has been an innovator since it first contracted with the privately held Pleasanton Garbage Service (GPS) in 1969. PGS began collecting organics and compost in 2002. It built one of California’s first municipal transfer stations in 1976, added a material recovery facility (MRF) in 1991, and established a curbside recycling program in 2009.

In Pleasanton, there are separate collection services of single family housing, multi-family housing and commercial businesses as described on the PGS website, Buck explained. The MRF can recycle uncontaminated newspaper, cardboard, mixed color and white paper, junk mail, magazines, paper bags, cereal and food boxes, egg cartons, plastic bottles and containers labeled #1-7, plastic milk containers, detergent containers, glass food and beverage containers, aluminum, steel and tin cans, empty aerosol cans, and pie tins.

Plastic bags are a problem, however. Buck asked PNR members to keep them out of their compost and recycling. Plastic bags are not compostable and can cause severe damage to GPS’s material recovery equipment. Plastic butter tubs are recyclable, but the thin plastic covering for the butter is not. Plastic packing materials are not recyclable. Styrofoam and plastic-laminated paper or chipboard are trash, but most coated paper and window envelopes are okay.

It is equally important to avoid contaminating your recyclables, Buck stressed. At Pleasanton MRF, contaminated recyclables must be sorted out for disposal in a landfill. Internationally, the problem of contamination became so severe that China, by far the world’s foremost recycler, banned the importation of many types of previously acceptable recyclables in 2017.

The restrictions produced a global crisis because most exporters, including the U.S., lacked the infrastructure to respond. “That’s why since 2018 some recyclable commodities have gone into landfills because there was no one here capable of turning it into something new,” Buck said.

State laws, and county and city ordinances have since been enacted to get U.S. jurisdictions to clean up their acts. Buck said California state law now mandates organics collection (composting). SB 8827 requires commercial accounts to use designated bins to assure accurate sorting.

When implemented in January 2022, California’s Short-lived Climate Pollutants Act (SB 1383) will wield an even bigger axe. It requires cities to make huge cuts by 2025 in the organic waste and methane gas their landfills produce.

When putting your compostable food waste and recyclables into your trash bins, dump them out of the plastic bags and throw those into the trash. This will make the process at Pleasanton Garbage much more successful.

Buck invited community groups and businesses to contact Buck’s Go Green Initiative for live presentations and printed material to optimize their recycling efforts.

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