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

2-11-18

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

2-4-18

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

1-28-18

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 styrofoam products, such as styrofoam 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 styrofoam 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 styrofoam 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.

Notes From the Field: Missed Christmas Tree Pickup?

1-23-18

Uh oh, you’ve missed Christmas Tree pickup!

Here’s what you need to do: If the tree is free of decorations, tinsel and stand, cut it up and place it in your green cart. If your tree has been flocked/spray painted, it cannot be composted and must be cut up and placed in your trash cart. Trees can also be taken to any San Joaquin County Landfill facility.

As a reminder, Christmas trees are collected in the City of Stockton between the weeks of Dec 26 – Jan 15 each season.

Read more Notes From the Field.

Coffee Capsules Are Not Recyclable Curbside

1-21-18

Coffee capsule packaging creates about 966 million pounds of waste annually. So can’t we recycle the capsules? Sadly, not at the curbside. The outer cups of coffee capsules are made of plastic, so in theory, they are recyclable. However, the little cups are too small to be sorted properly by recycling facilities, so they end up in the trash. Also, the lid and filter of each cup are not recyclable — only the outer plastic cup. Coffee capsules need to be recycled through alternative programs, such as TerraCycle’s or Nespresso’s, in order to be processed correctly. However, for most of us, all of that extra work isn’t worth it.

Instead of using disposable capsules, try a reusable capsule like the EZ-Cup. It will work in your single-serve coffee machine with any kind of coffee, and it uses a biodegradable filter. Or consider a compostable single-serve capsule, such as the PurPod100.

You could also try a more traditional method of making your morning brew. For instance, French presses and espresso makers don’t require any single-use materials. Percolators or pour-over coffee kits, on the other hand, only require a coffee filter.

5 Hot Tips to Lower Your Heating Bill This Winter

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Is the winter cold giving you the blues? Don’t let it raise your heating bill — use these tips to reduce your energy use while keeping your home nice and toasty.

1. Insulate Your Windows

If you have single pane windows or have drafts sneaking in around them, try using a window insulator kit. By covering windows with a thin layer of plastic, you can seal off any cracks and add extra insulation.

2. Use Your Curtains

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, curtains can reduce heat loss from a room up to 10 percent. Close all of your curtains at night, and during the day, open curtains in rooms that receive direct sunlight.

3. Stop Door Drafts

If you can feel cold drafts coming in through the bottoms of any doors, use a door draft stopper. You can brace the bottom of the door with a rolled or folded-up rug, or purchase a stopper.

4. Turn Off Your Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Bathroom fans can help reduce moisture, but they also allow heat to escape. Use your fan minimally, and open the bathroom door after a shower to allow moisture to evaporate.

5. Program Your Thermostat

Use your thermostat strategically to save on heating costs. Try lowering your temperature setting by 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours a day. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it can save you up to 10 percent on your heating bill.

For more tips on how to save energy at home, see How to Conduct a Home Energy Audit.

How Plastic Bottles Are Recycled

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In the United States, we use 140 million plastic bottles a day. Ever wonder how they get recycled? Watch this video by ReCommunity to find out.

Notes From the Field: Street Parking Can Prevent Trash Pickup

1-4-18

Park the wrong way and your carts might not get serviced!

We ask our residents to keep courts and bulb-out residential courts and streets clear of cars for the trash/recycle/green waste trucks on service day. Carts need to be placed against the curb, not behind or in front of vehicles.

Please do not park perpendicular to the curb. It causes your carts to be further into the middle of the street. The waste trucks will not be able to maneuver and may skip service. Please be considerate of your neighbors and park down the street if you have no more driveway room on trash service day so everyone’s carts will be serviced!

Read more Notes From the Field.

Notes From the Field: Recycle Your Christmas Tree Quickly

1-4-18

Don’t let your Christmas tree turn orange in the street! After the holidays, set your Christmas tree on the curb quickly. Your trash service provider will pick up your unflocked, metal- and plastic-free tree free of charge between December 26 – January 15. Please, any trees over 6 feet tall must be cut in half for pickup. If you miss this deadline, you will have to cut your tree up and put it in your green waste cart.

Learn more about what to do with Christmas trees, or read more Notes From the Field.

This LA Dressmaker Is Making Dresses From Wasted Fabric

12-31-17

Christy Dawn Petersen, an LA-based dressmaker, has created a new kind of fashion line: dresses made only from leftover fabric. These fabric-scrap dresses, which run in limited editions, aren’t only saving fabric from the waste pile — they’re also selling out.

Fabric scraps abound in the fashion industry. Clothing manufacturers frequently purchase more fabric than they need in order to cut their patterns for each season, and the waste adds up. One report estimates that 400 billion square meters of fabric are wasted each year in the global apparel industry.

Petersen’s brand, Christy Dawn, is strongly focused on sustainability. In addition to how the dresses are made, they are delivered in wooden boxes instead of plastic bags. The company also offers employees a healthy work environment with fair wages and benefits. Read more from Forbes.