The recycling myth
I watched the conveyor belt whiz past and recognized the brand of toothbrush I use. And was that the same takeout sushi container I get all the time? Could those plastic items heading to the landfill have been mine?
As the founder of Sea Hugger, a nonprofit organization working to protect the marine environment from plastic pollution, I was invited to tour Recology’s San Francisco Recycling Center to see how the recycling process works. Recology is employee-owned and committed to recycling as much waste as possible. But with the average American producing 4.4 pounds of trash per day, the sheer volume of materials that pass through the facility is astounding.
According to Robert Reed, Recology’s Public Relations Manager, “Six hundred tons of material comes through the tipping floor each day, that’s equivalent to the weight of 38 Muni buses.” Recology said the most efficient way to manage our waste isn’t to rely on recycling; it is to consume fewer single-use items.
I stood on that tipping floor and saw those muni bus-sized piles of rubbish spilling out of Recology’s trucks into a massive jumble of paper, plastic, glass, and metal. The beep beep beep of the reversing trucks and the cacophony of crashes, crunches, and breaking glass assaulted my ears. As did the unpleasant odor; it was as if I had stepped into my recycling bin.
We left the tipping floor and climbed a flight of stairs to the landing of the first conveyor belt where the initial sorting is done by hand. The conveyor belt moved at high speed as five sorters stood on each side grabbing plastic bags and tossing them into a shoot marked Landfill. Now that China stopped buying our recyclables, the plastic wholesale market has dropped from $120 to just $5 a ton, and there is no market for plastic bags, which despite being banned in San Francisco in 2007, were found throughout the facility in startling numbers.
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