Recology

Zero Waste for Earth Day

Go Zero Waste with Recology for Earth Day!

As part of our continued work to move the communities we serve closer to sending nothing to the landfill, Recology would like to invite people around the world to join us in going zero waste for Earth Day on Monday, April 22nd.

What does zero waste on Earth Day mean?

On Earth Day, many Recology staff will try to not sending anything to the landfill for one day – meaning only using and discarding items that are recyclable or compostable. Take your lunch in reusable containers instead of single use packaging, or only buy lunch in containers that are compostable and recyclable.

Document your experience.

As part of going Zero Waste for Earth Day, we’d like to hear about your experience in trying to send nothing to landfill for a day. Document your day with photos, videos, a blog post, or any other way you’d like! After Earth Day, we’ll compile all of the thoughts and media we received into a blog post, to be posted at blog.recology.com.

Some ideas for what to document:

  • What was difficult about going for zero waste?
  • What did you find yourself having to avoid that you normally would have taken or bought?
  • Did trying to go zero waste for a day change how you think about purchases, waste, or recycling?

Any and all thoughts and ideas are welcome – we’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Plastics Part 7: Polystyrene, expanded polystyrene… you know, your foam cup

Posted in Extended Producer Responsibility, Recycling, You Should Know... by ecotulip on September 23, 2012

Guest blogger, Jessica Connolly of Recology San Mateo County explores plastics and her relationship to them in this series.


Polystyrene (PS) is traditionally known by its more widespread name: Styrofoam. PS can be made into a variety of forms such as expanded PS, which is most prevalent, extruded PS, and foam PS, both of which are less ubiquitous.

Expanded PS is about 95% air and 5% plastic. It is what we know as packing peanuts, packing materials, disposable foam cups and food containers. PS is generally more affordable than other disposable products, making it a desirable container choice for establishments that sell food and beverages. Extruded PS is used in disposable food utensils, DVD and CD cases, disposable razors, and those omnipresent disposable red party cups. PS foam is also used as home and building insulation. In that application, it is injected in between walls, whereupon it expands and seals. It is viewed as a lighter and cheaper material to insulate with and is an alternative to concrete.

Src: Wikipedia

Whatever monetary cost savings it may have, PS is not easy to recycle because of its light weight and low scrap value. Just imagine filling a semi-truck with PS; the little value of the material would be erased by the cost to fuel and drive the truck. With that said, however, other forms of PS are accepted in recycling programs because they have a higher density and a higher scrap value. When PS is recycled, it is usually made into coat hangers, park benches, flower pots, toys, and architectural molding.

PS is too light to accept into our single stream recycling program, but at the San Francisco transfer station, we accept it from residents and businesses for recycling. Recology San Francisco operates a special densifier that condenses loose pieces of Styrofoam into ingots, which are recycled into base boards and moldings. However, our experiment is only a small step. 

PS has several environmental impacts. Due to its weightlessness, PS travels easily by wind and water and pollutes the surrounding environment. Bits and pieces are what remain from an originally large piece, and animals mistake the small pieces of plastic for food, which then enters the food chain. Marine litter is extremely common in the Pacific Ocean (as well as the other oceans) and much of this floating plastic is PS.

Also, the properties of PS do not normally allow it to break down in a traditional landfill. Plastic in general does not  biodegrade, and PS is a prime example. Scientific estimates of decomposition time are high, between 10 thousand and 1 million years. But who knows how long it will actually take, since PS was invented a mere 150 years ago. We can only estimate its actual rate of decomposition.

At this point, because of its environmental impacts, perhaps the most important piece of advice would be to avoid the consumption of this plastic. With all the widespread knowledge about its harm, it’s crucial to determine if using this product is worth it, since humankind and the environment suffer from this plastics’ pollution. Now that you have read this and have become aware, what will you do to make a difference?

The pit that you don’t see

It is safe to say that the work we’ve been doing to create alternatives to landfill disposal has forced a change in the traditional waste industry. And it’s an industry that badly needs to change.

One way that we’ve done this is to show people where their garbage goes, and what’s in it. We often take people on tours of our transfer stations, and show them what they think goes “away” after they leave their garbage on the curb.  Most companies would never show the public what the folks at the Recology transfer station in San Francisco call “the Pit”. 

Src: Rebuilding Together San Francisco via flickr

The Pit temporarily holds what goes into the garbage can before it’s transfered to a landfill. Most of it is recyclable or compostable. When we look at the pit, we feel the same sense of sadness that others feel when they’re exposed to it for the first time. There’s a lot of wasted material in there.

We don’t hide the Pit for a reason. What folks see in there is an important part of their education about recycling, composting and landfills. And we show it to them for another reason too: to show them what they’re not seeing when they look at the Pit. Fifteen to twenty years ago, the Pit saw about 3,000 tons of waste per day. Today, the number is 1,350. We’ve been able to do this through our partnership with every resident of San Francisco and the Department of the Environment, and the three-bin system that we created, which allows everyone to sort out their compostable and recyclable material from their garbage.  

We participate in coastal and city-wide clean up days to make sure what can be recycled is recycled during those events, and try to inspire people to see garbage differently through our Artist in Residence program in San Francisco and GLEAN in Portland.

Of course, there will always be garbage as long as products are made to be disposable after a single use, and as long as that is true, we will need landfills. But, we hope that the landfills of the future are “inert”–meaning no recyclable and no compostable materials go there.

Coming up with new ways to prevent usable resources from being wasted is part of the joy in our jobs. For example, one of the employees at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in San Francisco came up with the idea to recover BART tickets that still had some value and to use the proceeds to support Friends of the Urban Forest and the San Francisco Food Bank.

We love that we get a chance to make a real, positive impact on the lives of people in the cities and towns where we work, and on resource conservation and the climate. It’s a tough and dirty job, but we are glad to do it.

Cupertino’s Environmental Recycling Day and Shredding Event

The City of Cupertino and Recology South Bay have teamed up to bring you an Environmental Recycling Day and Shredding Event on January 21st!

Location: Parking Lot A of De Anza College, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd in Cupertino

Cupertino residents can shred their documents, drop off their yard clippings for composting and recycle e-waste such as computers, monitors and certain appliances. We will also accept reusable furniture, clothing and shoes as well as toys and play structures for recycling.

Unacceptable materials include painted or treated wood, mattresses and products containing toxic chemicals, such as paints, pesticides and fertilizers.

This collaboration between the city of Cupertino and Recology (it happens twice a year) is to offer a free drive-through, drop-off service for Cupertino residents in an effort to encourage extended use of products and prevent valuable resources from being sent to landfills.

Each household is allowed one trip, and unloading of materials will be the responsibility of the resident. Residents must also provide a current waste collection bill and personal identification such as a driver’s license to verify Cupertino residency.

For more information, call Recology South Bay, which serves Cupertino at 408.725.4020 or visit http://www.recologysouthbay.com.

Thanks for recycling!

Meet us at the coast

You may have heard about the “Law of Mother Earth’s Rights,” which was added to Bolivia’s constitution this year. It gives nature, all types of ecosystems included, the same rights as people. Not only is it controversial for the economic and cultural consequences of how it may be interpreted, but also because it hastens us to ask profound questions about how we react to the very concept. Bolivia’s Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, told attendants at this year’s International Day of Mother Earth that, In Bolivia we seek a return to balance, a harmonious life not only between individuals but between man and nature, so today must be a day of reflection of awareness of all to care for our Mother Earth and take timely means for our mother back to its natural balance.

The final application of the law has yet to be determined. Will it mean that human beings will have to become vegan, or that mining will be outlawed? No one knows yet, although a company like ours certainly hopes it incentivizes the country to adopt recycling laws, or at the very least, non-dumping laws.

If these demands are perceived as too drastic, then it may be at least possible to take small steps.

For example, on Saturday, September 17th of this year, Recology Sunset Scavenger and Recology Golden Gate gathered together 50 volunteers to collect what totaled 6,840 pounds of debris during the annual Coastal Cleanup Day. Recology partnered with the Knights of Columbus, and Year Up to remove debris from a stretch of San Francisco’s city’s shoreline in the Bayview district. The debris ranged from microwave ovens to shopping carts, to truck tires and pretty much everything in between.

The collected debris was taken to our sort line for sorting and recycling when it was possible, and invasive plants were composted. We are proud to say that the clean up was a 100% zero waste event.



The biodegradable bandwagon

Marketers, in their zeal to “green” their products, are calling everything they can “biodegradable.” There was an article in September’s paper about making plastics “green.” Everyone’s trying it–softdrink manufacturers, plastic bag manufacturers and even pen manufacturers.

With the array of products being marketed as “green” alternatives to plastic ranging from “new carbon” inputs to biodegradable (although not necessarily compostable) processing options, it can be a confusing world out there. And consumers are confused, or more often, misled.

There is a line that marketers tend to cross. Under the pressure to produce the greenest consumer products, they tend to misuse language, and the word “sustainability” most of all. If we consider the entire lifecyle of these products, what do we really gain? We’ve seen some plastic bags marketed as “will biodegrade in a landfill,” which is dually funny, if you know anything about landfills.

An article in today’s Mercury News announced that California’s Attorney General is finally going after false advertising.  This is a significant step in the recycling world. We are sure there will be a long road ahead for recyclers, manufactuers and consumers–everyone.

Recology Wins California Product Stewardship Council’s Partner of the Year

Last week the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) awarded Recology their Partner of the Year Award at their annual meeting at the California Resource Recovery Association’s Conference. CPSC recognized Recology for its belief in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), contributions to EPR educational outreach and participation in local, regional and statewide efforts to expand the implementation of EPR.

EPR, or product stewardship, is a strategy to place a shared responsibility for end-of-life product management on the producers, and all entities involved in the product chain. It is an approach to product and materials management that improves their utilization and promotes waste minimization. Under product stewardship, the consumer, the product designer, the manufacturer and the recycler are called upon, as environmental stewards, to take responsibility for the design, manufacture, marketing, distribution, use, and recycling of the product. This method removes the sole responsibility, for end-of-life management, from the general public and instead encourages changes in product design that reduce waste and the negative impacts on human health and the environment at every stage of the product’s lifecycle.

Currently 28 California counties, in addition to dozen of cities within these counties, have individually passed EPR resolutions, together these total 121 resolutions supporting product stewardship. Every other remaining county is a member of an association that passed an EPR resolution or policy statement. These resolutions support phasing out the end-of-life management that is free to manufacturers of problem products like carpet, paint, batteries, electronics and pharmaceuticals, to name a few. However the only current statewide programs are carpet and paint. Now that local governments are setting the goals, the next step is to develop a statewide EPR framework policy for all applicable products, so that individual legislation isn’t needed on a product by product basis. When this type of progress occurs, California can, through successful EPR programs, rapidly decrease the waste production of these products and effect changes to require better product design.

As a part of Recology’s product stewardship work, Recology provides educational programs in the communities it serves, gives first hand presentations and explanations of how to appropriately recycle difficult materials, works on state legislature to allow for the creation of EPR programs and participates in regulatory packages to allow for existing EPR programs to thrive.

Recology has long expressed its excitement about the direction recycling and composting efforts are moving in California, and a big part of those efforts is the growing support and expansion of EPR programs. With a rallying cry of “WASTE ZERO,” Recology looks forward to the future successes of more EPR programs. Recology is well-deserving of this recognition and together with organizations like CPSC, by promoting improvements in product design, appropriate end-of-life product management and overall environmental sustainability, goals like “WASTE ZERO” can be achieved.

The partnership between CPSC and Recology is a great way to continue the support of product stewardship and continue the movement toward finding the highest and best use for every resource.

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