Not All Plastics Are Recyclable


Just because something is made from plastic does not mean it can be recycled. Most plastic items are marked with the recycling symbol, but this symbol alone doesn’t make them recyclable. Rather, the recycling symbol is a manufacturing requirement, and the number indicates what type of plastic the item is made from. Recycling programs differ by location, but they usually accept limited types of plastic or containers.

The best way to find out if an item is recyclable is by looking it up in our Recycling Guide. You can look up the item by its name or the number of plastic.

Putting non-recyclable items in your recycling, also known as wish cycling, can cause problems for your recycling center. Plastics that aren’t accepted by our program can contaminate whole batches of recyclable material, which then need to be thrown away. Other times, they may have to be manually removed by sanitation workers, which slows down the sorting process and can be unsafe for these workers.

See what plastic materials we recycle in Stockton.

Rechargeable Devices Are Flammable — Here’s How to Dispose of Them Safely


In the past few years, consumer electronics have been in the news for catching fire, and it’s not because they’re being used incorrectly. Many of our everyday electronics use rechargeable batteries. Also known as lithium ion batteries, rechargeable batteries are highly flammable. If they happen to have any manufacturing defects, they can be dangerous.

Rechargeable batteries can be found in many electronic devices, including the following:

When you no longer want to keep a rechargeable device, it’s important to dispose of it carefully. Fires caused by rechargeable batteries have occurred in garbage trucks, recycling facilities and landfills. To be safe, recycle your electronics as e-waste. To dispose of a rechargeable battery, place it inside its own sealed plastic bag, or tape the ends with duct tape or electrical tape, and dispose of it as hazardous waste.

Learn more in this video from CBS:

The Problem With Glitter


Did you know that glitter is hazardous to the environment? This may seem hard to believe until you realize that glitter is plastic. As such, it shares the same problems that all other plastics do: as it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, it finds its way into the ecosystem where it pollutes habitats and harms wildlife — and us!

If you’ve ever worked with glitter, you know how difficult disposing of it can be. It sticks to nearly any surface it touches. It’s too small to recycle and, sometimes, too small to even throw away. You often have to resort to washing hands, clothes and surfaces, flushing glitter down the drain and into our waterways.

Glitter also lingers in the food chain. As a microplastic, it can be eaten by small animals, such as zooplankton and crustaceans. Since plastic does not naturally biodegrade, and only becomes smaller pieces of plastic, microplastics are not likely to leave the food chain once they have entered it. When larger animals eat contaminated prey, the plastic moves up the food chain with them, eventually ending up in human bodies. Although all plastics become microplastics eventually, glitter begins this way, meaning it pollutes the food chain more quickly.

So what can we do? Preventing waste before it starts is the most important step we can take. Some are even advocating for a ban on glitter. Though this may seem extreme, there is a precedent for microplastic legislation. In July, a congressional ban on the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics will go into effect. The goal of this legislation is to keep these tiny plastic particles out of our waterways. This is an important step given that plastic was recently found in 94 percent of water samples from across the country.

If you do use glitter, be conscious of how much you use and how you dispose of it. Wastewater treatment facilities cannot filter out microplastic, so try to wash as little as possible down the drain. Glitter you cannot store or reuse should be thrown in the garbage. Greeting cards, crafts and decorations with glitter cannot be recycled, so throw these away as well.

Read more about how you can reduce plastic waste.

California’s Plastic Bag Ban: A One-Year Review


Proposition 67, which banned single-use plastic shopping bags across the state of California, has been in effect for just over a year now. Has it made a difference? Californians Against Waste recently reviewed the data.

Prior to the statewide bag ban, California retailers were distributing an estimated 13.8 billion bags per year, and plastic film recycling rates were only at 5 percent. At the annual Coastal Clean-Up Day, plastic bags used to be one of the leading sources of litter. In 2010, more than 65,000 plastic bags were found littered along California beaches and rivers. Plastic bags accounted for 7.4 percent of all litter — only cigarette butts and fast food packaging were more prolific.

By 2016, more than 40 percent of California had enacted plastic bag bans, and the corresponding litter rate had been reduced by 66 percent. Data from the September 2017 clean-up shows that plastic bag litter has now dropped by 72 percent since 2010, down to less than 1.5 percent of litter collected.

By these numbers, phasing out of plastic bags is proving to be a highly effective measure against pollution — a sure success for California communities and wildlife. Read more from Californians Against Waste.

How China’s Trade Policies Are Affecting U.S. Recycling


For over a decade, recyclables and scrap materials have been one of the United States’s largest exports to China. Plastic, paper and other materials from household recycling across the U.S. have long been shipped across the Pacific for China to turn back into raw materials. In the past few years, however, China has been attempting to regulate the materials they accept as part of a policy called Operation Green Fence. The imported materials have often been contaminated — sometimes by hazardous waste — which means they can be impossible to recycle, dangerous to work with, and detrimental to the environment. As a nation, China has also been producing enough of its own waste in recent years that it doesn’t need American recyclables to generate a supply of raw materials.

In 2017, in response to the contamination and their reduced need for imports, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection declared new standards for imported recyclables. For items such as paper and scrap plastics, the contamination rate must be lower than 0.5 percent. In other words, in a shipment of paper, less than 0.5 percent can be unrecyclable paper or another material all together. China has also banned 24 types of solid waste from import, citing “protection of human health or safety” and “protection of the environment.”

How They Affect Us

The new regulations, which went into partial effect January 1, 2018, and go into full effect March 1, 2018, are impacting the recycling industry across the globe. In the U.S., we have long relied on China to buy our recycled materials and ensure that recycling is a profitable business. With the absence of the Chinese market, household recyclables are piling up at transfer stations and landfills with no one to buy them and nowhere to go. At least 22 states have reported a noticeable or heavy impact so far, including the following:

What We Can Do

What does this mean for the future of recycling in our nation? As things stand, we have two possible responses: improve our recycling process so we can achieve the 0.5 contamination rate, or create new markets for recyclable materials.

The first step is to ensure that our recyclables are less contaminated. For waste companies, this may entail slowing the sorting process at recycling centers, hiring more workers, and building more facilities. Cities may need to enforce stricter residential recycling policies, and the industry as a whole would benefit from investing in technological advances for sorting machine capabilities.

Second, the U.S. may need to change the way we handle the waste we have been shipping overseas. Narrowing the types of materials we sell could help us develop domestic markets for recyclable materials. The process of turning consumer goods back into useful raw materials is hindered by the wide array of materials types — think of all the kinds of plastic you encounter on a daily basis. To make this process efficient enough to be profitable, it would help to have fewer materials in larger quantities. Manufacturers may also need to take responsibility for the materials they produce and sell, instead of passing the burden onto retailers, consumers and the government.

Ultimately, if we don’t have better systems in place to deal with our trash, we will inevitably be stuck with it. You can do your part by looking up if an item is recyclable before tossing it in the trash or recycling, and making sure your recyclables are empty, clean and dry. Even better — reduce how much trash and recycling you create in the first place. Stockton Recycles can help by giving you easy tips on how to avoid reducing each type of waste. Simply search our Recycling Guide or our browse our latest Tips, News & Events for ideas.

7 Easy Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste


You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a giant floating mass of plastic trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Experts guess that it’s somewhere between the size of Texas and of the continental United States. Because it is floating, the pieces are difficult to see from far away, and a precise estimate is difficult. However, we do know that about 20 billion pounds of plastic are added to it each year — roughly 10 percent of all the plastic we toss in the trash annually.

To prevent this mass from growing, the best thing we can do is cut back over here on dry land. Here are a few super easy tips for reducing the plastic waste you create on a daily basis.

1. Choose reusable water bottles and travel mugs, and cut out bottled beverages where possible

A lot of disposable water bottles end up in the trash, and paper coffee cups are made with a plastic lining, so they are a mixed material that can’t be recycled. But reusable water bottles and travel mugs are easy to find and reuse, and are made from a variety of materials, so you can choose what appeals to you. It doesn’t take long for them to earn their keep, especially now that bottled water tends to cost more than a dollar, and a lot of coffee shops offer discounts when you bring your own thermos or mug. Also, when you have your own beverage containers, you can switch from purchasing other favorite beverages to making them at home, or buy them in bulk, so that you’re not consuming so many single-use beverage containers.

2. Reusable tote bags, sandwich bags, produce bags

Reusable tote bags are common these days — try keeping some in your car so that you always have some on hand for shopping trips. You can either skip using produce bags altogether (you’re going to end up rinsing produce once you’re home, anyway), or use reusable cloth bags (you can make your own from old fabric or purchase some). You can also choose reusable sandwich and snack bags over disposable — they simply need to be washed or wiped out between uses.

3. No more disposable straws or utensils

Whenever you order a beverage, inform your server that you don’t need a straw. If you like to use straws at home, there are reusable steel, glass or bamboo options. Plastic utensils? Try carrying your own for eating on the go, such as a reusable steel or bamboo set, and stash some at the office. Also, say “no, thank you” to disposable utensils when picking up takeout.

4. Switch out your plastic food containers and bring your own carryout container

Food storage containers made of glass or metal tends to be safer and more versatile than plastic varieties. Glass containers are often oven-safe, so you don’t have to use multiple dishes to reheat your food. Glass and metal also don’t age or stain like hard plastic will, so you won’t end up tossing as many of them over time. A good habit to get into is bringing your own reusable containers to restaurants, so you don’t end up carrying leftovers home in a single-use container.

5. Choose boxes over plastic bottles and bags

Choose items packaged in cardboard over items packaged in plastic when you have a choice, such as when buying pasta or detergents. Cardboard tends to be easier to recycle, and biodegrades more quickly and safely than plastic.

6. Buy in bulk (and save money!)

Instead of buying foods packaged as single-serving or that come in small, disposable containers, try buying more foods from the bulk bins at your grocery store. Many grains, pastas, granolas, nuts, dried fruit and candy can all commonly be purchased in bulk, which is often much cheaper as well. You can even bring your own refillable containers (and ask to have them weighed first) so that you can skip using the store’s plastic bags.

7. Return reusable containers

When farmer’s markets and nurseries give you plastic containers, you can bring them back to be reused. Putting an item to reuse is always better than recycling.

Remember, even though these choices might seem small, the effects add up over time. If you can picture every tenth piece of plastic you throw away ending up in the ocean, you can really see how even the tiniest of actions to reduce waste can help protect our environment.

The Known Health Hazards of Plastics #1-#7


Just about everyone on this planet uses plastic products and is vaguely familiar with the different types. We don’t tend to be as familiar with which types of plastic are safe for us to interact with, and which kinds we need to look out for. With this guide, you can find out which plastics are safer to use and which to stay away from.

Plastic #1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE or Polyester)

Commonly found in beverage bottles (bottled water, juice, sports drinks, salad dressing) and other thin plastics, like microwaveable food trays. Polyester fabric can be found in clothing, linens, carpets, padding and insulation.

Safe? Mostly. In its bottle form, you should refrain from using plastic #1 more than once, because it wears down quickly, and collects germs and toxins over time. Because its structure becomes porous as it ages, such germs and toxins cannot be washed off. Additionally, several studies have shown that antimony leaches from this kind of plastic, and some suggest that the leaching may even reach dangerous levels. To avoid risk of exposure, you should never microwave plastic #1 or leave it in hot places, such as out in the sun or in a car. Heat triggers the antimony to leach from the plastic.

Plastic #2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

A sturdy, flexible plastic, found in milk cartons, detergent containers and squeezable bottles, and also thinner items such as plastic bags and freezer bags.

Safe? As far as we know. There are no known health hazards related to household exposure to plastic #2.

Plastic #3 Polyvinyl Chloride or Vinyl (PVC or V)

This plastic can be sturdy and thick, found in window cleaning bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food containers, shower curtains, blinds, flooring, pipes, children’s toys and blister pack/clamshell packaging. It can also be thin, such as crystal/cling wrap and deli meat wrap.

Safe? No. PVC is known to leach various toxic chemicals, such as pthalates, dioxins, BPA and more. These can cause hormone disruption, cancer, reproductive disorders and developmental disorders. Avoid products made from PVC or vinyl whenever possible.

Plastic #4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Another flexible plastic, often found in plastic bags, squeezable bottles and food storage containers.

Safe? As far as we know. There are no known health hazards related to household exposure to plastic #4.

Plastic #5 Polypropylene (PP)

A thicker plastic, often found in yogurt and margarine tubs, ketchup and syrup bottles, bottle caps, food storage containers, Brita filters, medicine containers, storage bins and diapers/sanitary pads.

Safe? As far as we know. There are no known health hazards related to household exposure to plastic #5.

Plastic #6 Polystyrene or Expanded Polystyrene (PS or EPS)

Most often we encounter polystyrene in the form of foam products, such as foam plates and cups, to-go containers, packing peanuts and meat trays. Occasionally we see it in higher density plastic items such as CD cases, aspirin bottles and plastic plates.

Safe? Probably not. Plastic #6 possesses a known neurotoxin and potential carcinogen called styrene, and it leaches out of foam containers when contents are hot, fatty or acidic. This isn’t ideal for tea or takeout food, so it’s best to avoid these containers if you can, or transfer contents to other containers when you get home. Since the 1980s, we’ve all had polystyrene in our bodies [PDF], but too much of it can cause neural conditions and genetic damage. High levels of styrene exposure have also been linked to reproductive failure and lymphoma. Polystyrene can additionally leach a carcinogen called benzene, though at less dangerous levels.

Plastic #7 (Miscellaneous or Other)

This symbol includes any plastic that isn’t plastics #1-#6. Plastic #7 is used for an array of products because it is a catch-all category and includes many resins. Most commonly it is used in reusable water bottles and water jugs.

Safe? Maybe not. One plastic #7, polycarbonate, leaches a toxin called BPA that mimics the hormone estrogen and leads to many health problems. Other types of plastic #7 have received less attention, so less is known about their potential health risks. One study has shown that other types of plastic #7 might actually contain chemicals that mimic estrogen more strongly than BPA.