California City finds that it doesn’t actually know where 60% of its recycling goes

Palo Alto, California, began investigating where recycling is going over four years ago, reports NBC News. The results?

Palo Alto’s best estimate today is that approximately 40% of its recyclable material remains in North America, where it is to be processed to strict environmental and labor standards. The other 60% or so go abroad, mainly to Asia, with no transparency as to their fate.

Experts say that cities and towns across the United States would likely have similar difficulties in determining how much of their valuable materials are actually being recycled. “If you keep things out of the landfill but just dump them in Laos, that’s not a good goal,” said Martin Bourque of the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California, a group that advised Palo Alto on its quest for transparency. “That wasn’t what the whole idea of ​​recycling was.”

The biggest obstacle Palo Alto encountered was that the half-dozen companies that trade the city’s recyclables in world markets declined to identify their trading partners for business reasons. City of Palo Alto officials could not compel disclosure and concluded they were stuck. “It is not possible to definitively determine whether the materials are properly recycled or whether they may cause environmental or social problems,” they write in a report published this year.

Palo Alto officials said they learned two lessons from this saga. First, they want to recycle more in the US… If the change is made permanent, the staff say, it could increase the average citizen’s recycling bill by about $33 a year. The second lesson, City Manager Ed Shikada said, is that Palo Alto cannot transform the global recycling system on its own. In March, the city began discussions with other interested California cities to discuss possible reforms at the local or state level. The group includes San Jose, the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, and about a dozen other Northern California communities. For example, Shikada said they could seek to expand recycling capacity in California or ask lawmakers to impose new transparency requirements on companies that export recyclable goods.
The article cites World Bank estimates that only about 9% of waste in East Asia and the Pacific is ultimately recycled. “The rest goes to landfills and incinerators or into nature, with local and global consequences… Research suggests that countries in Southeast Asia are among the world’s top sources of marine plastic.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button