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A journey of 9,500 miles. Why recyclables are heading overseas to Asia.

Original post made on Apr 12, 2019

As Palo Alto works to achieve zero waste, there are new environmental obstacles arising from changes in global recycling standards that the city must consider since it currently sends about 75% of its recyclables overseas.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 12, 2019, 6:52 AM

Comments (23)

Posted by Re-Use That Banana Peel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2019 at 8:59 am

We need to develop recyclables into alternative energy sources...not so much plastics as this may pose an environmental hazard but organic waste material.

I've always been impressed with how Dr. Brown was successful in converting his nuclear-powered DeLorean to bio-fuel (aka produce material wastes). If this can be accomplished with a complex Flux-Capacitor design, we most certainly have the technology to apply this process to conventional-powered mobiles.

Posted by Don't Disrupt The Flow
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2019 at 12:48 pm

When Asia says no more to exported recyclables, then we must consider an alternative.

Until then, keep those barges headed out their way. It provides jobs for the grateful locals.

Posted by sophie
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2019 at 1:52 pm

For some folks, waste needs to be disposed, for others, waste is resource in a wrong place. There are businesses established based on recycling the waste material, such as the recycled plastics are used to make printers' housing, recycled metals are used in mother boards. Return of Investment is the only thing it matters.

Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 12, 2019 at 4:27 pm

"Re-Use That Banana Peel"

Recycle it into a slipper.

Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2019 at 8:54 am

I think this is pretty funny. In the old days, Palo Alto had clean recyclable streams. Separate boxes for paper, cardboard, glass and metal, etc. High value, no contamination.

Then greenwaste convinced the city to go to the large mixed bins so that greenwaste could save money collecting the waste. And the city paid for the initial cost of the bins. All so that greenwaste could reduce THEIR costs.

Now we find out that no one wants the contaminated waste and it is expensive and hard to separate out.

Why don't we clawback the bonuses we gave to the city employees and city manager for their wonderful service and short cited thinking that got us into this situation.


Posted by Just fix it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Not only did we used to have well-sorted recyclables, we also used to put clean items in recycling until we were told by our waste management that we SHOULDN'T clean things before putting them in recycling because of water. I read this to incredulous members of the household and we started putting items in without rinsing.

I do not mind going back to sorting and rinsing. Just tell us what to do. And sheesh, stop talking about the problem as if it just happened. Someone goofed, it can be fixed.

Posted by Just fix it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2019 at 3:51 pm

But maybe we should be keeping all the easily recycled aluminum and glass here anyway...

Posted by merry
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 14, 2019 at 11:35 am

merry is a registered user.

Another fraud that became an industry! Remember when we were issued burlap sacks for our cans?
Now it’s complicated expensive and does not work.

Posted by I like bananas
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2019 at 3:40 pm

Seriously - there are vitamins in banana peels. Try washing a banana before eating it, and then putting the washed peel into boiling water, allowing it to seep and become a flavorful tea. I tried it and it's great. Must be done after eating the banana though. Don't think it would work as well, when peel turns brown.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 14, 2019 at 9:11 pm

eileen is a registered user.

@I like Bananas, stop being ridiculous and pay attention to the issue.
Other than eating bananas, do you have a real solution this is problem?

Posted by Mellow Yellow
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 15, 2019 at 8:19 am

> Try washing a banana before eating it, and then putting the washed peel into boiling water, allowing it to seep and become a flavorful tea.

Those who remember the late 1960s will also recall the concept of scraping the inner lining of the banana peel & smoking it in lieu of marijuana.

Donovan even wrote a song about it...'Mellow Yellow'.

Countless people tried this & found that marijuana had a much more profound and noticeable effect.

In any event, whether tea or smoke is made from the discarded banana peel, you still have some residual garbage. Probably best to just toss it in the garden & let the residual decompose organically into the ground.

Posted by Fossil fueled consumerism
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 15, 2019 at 8:51 am

Fossil fueled consumerism is a registered user.

We use fossil fuels to ship cheap manufactured goods over thousands of miles of ocean to "save" money. We ship tons of packaging and dirty waste back to those same countries to manage our waste. It would be great if US companies paid US citizens a decent wage to make stuff closer to home, pay a little more for labor, and manage our waste here. We would then have control to truly manage environmental impacts (assuming we really want to--I do.), create jobs, reduce fossil fuel emissions from long-distance shipping to minimize enormous long-term unmeasured costs of climate change.

Cheap stuff from overseas is not cheaper if you consider the long-term cost of the environmental damage of this kind of foolishness. It's time for us to clean up our own messes and own the true cost of our consumerism.

Short-term profit motive is the enemy. Greed truly is a vice. Our children and grandchildren will thank us for considering their future as we make our consumer and waste management choices.

Reduce what we buy. Reuse what we can. Recycle as much as we can. Most importantly, reduce our fossil fuel footprint. That is the single most important thing we can all do for our kids. My beloved grandmother who died forty years ago would be appalled to see how we wastefully are living today. We can do better. We HAVE done better.

Posted by Chris G Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 15, 2019 at 12:35 pm

Chris G Zaharias is a registered user.

It seems to me that the most environmentally friendly things for PA to do would be to reopen the landfill. As I understand it, the knock against landfills is that *poorly-managed ones* are conduits to plastics and pollution entering the environment, the ocean primarily. If PA's landfill continues to be well-managed, that risk is largely mitigated whereas it's not if our trash ends up in SE Asia.

Posted by Another Use For Expended Plastics
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2019 at 8:02 pm

> Other than eating bananas, do you have a real solution this is problem?

Bananas, apples and oranges are the most popular fruits in America & I have the utmost appreciation for them.

Their skins are bio-degradable, the fruits provide healthful nutrition & are easy to carry in a brown bag lunch.

They are also popular (along with cherries) as slot machine symbols.

Back to topic...isn't ironic how we import tons of plastic products from Asia only to send much of them back as recyclable materials?

The oceanic shipping lanes are inundated by this back & forth transport of plastics.

One possible solution would be to convert the plastic into viable construction & building materials to meet the expanded housing & office demands of the SF Bay Area & elsewhere. This would in turn reduce global steel production & the pollution that emanates from its manufacturing process.

Plastic could also be used for building bridges & modern sports arenas. It's flexible, strong and the pigments could be added to into the epoxying process so exterior painting would now become a thing of the past!

Plus...plastic doesn't rust.

We have the technology and the engineering know-how.

Posted by Vettura
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2019 at 9:24 am

City needs to develop volunteer network, to hunt down any business who uses disposable plastic in their business that cannot be recycled in the US, setup initiatives to ban them or tax them to make it economically not viable. Eventually the countries who use or produce these plastics needs to pay recycling cost.

Posted by Mark
a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2019 at 10:44 pm

In Australia we have a volunteer initiative called Clean Up Australia day. This is where everyone from kids to adults give up their time to clean up waste in their local community. The event is one day each year for anywhere between 4 hours to all day, depending on how much time the volunteer can spare.
It is amazing how much can be done even over a few hours.

Posted by Resident 2
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 13, 2019 at 6:35 pm

Follow the money.
What City staff did on Monday is do what they have always done..they bundled two separate action items into one. The first item was to get rid of single use plastic foodware items and replace it with biodegradable items. A sound idea,with no opposition. Especially after the presentation by the girlscouts. Sales 101, pull on the heart strings.

The second part, which was mandatory deconstruction, should not have been bundled together.
What the City did was make it mandatory to use it's franchised dumpsters ( supplied by Green Waste of course) to load up house demolishion debris. Here is the clincher:: The city splits the fee with Green Waste. At about $1000+ per 20 cubic yard dumpster these fees will add up quick. This is called a kickback, They eleminated the competition by using a monopoly. Even if a contractor self hauls, they are under scrutiny when dumping at Zanker ( Green Waste). Green Waste judges the load of self haulers and can deny the load. This is called conflict of interest. The fox is watching the hen house.

What most folks need to understand is there is not a big market for this material, and the majority ends up in the dump.

Also there is huge incentive for City staff to implement these programs. I am sure there was some kind of grant out there that was used to make this happen. Most likely the plan was shaped to meet the grant critera. Theb to convince the public they Pull a few heart strings ( saving the planet, children safety, ect...) And voila a new public program that will ensure City staff members have job security and a hefty pension to go along with it.

This technique has been used on other projects, for example; the bike boulavard on Ross Rd. I know one of the major concerns in Palo Alto is the City Pension Deficit. Programs like this add to the pension problem.

Posted by Resident Recycler
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 15, 2019 at 6:50 am

To "Another Use For Expended Plastics" from Another Community -
We can't use these plastics for building materials because when they burn, the smoke is massive (unlike other building materials), and extremely toxic (more so than wood). There are already concerns regarding toxicity using certain recycled man-made materials in general. This is why many manufacturers put statements on furniture and stuffed animals saying "Made from all new materials".
I'm not talking about restoring and reusing wood and metals from old homes, but the newer developed plastics made from petrochemicals.
Styrofoam is another bad one - it should never have been invented.
Just try not to buy things packaged in plastic, and send letters to companies to make a change. I've sent many letters to Walmart, Ranch99, and Walgreens to stop using Styrofoam as egg cartons, and for take-out foods (Ranch).
If they receive enough letters from consumers, they will make the change. It takes time, but it works.

Posted by Make Better Use Of Transport
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2019 at 7:26 am

Why not simply enlist the empty freighters returning to China with these waste products? They can then drop them off in SE Asia prior to reloading their various manufactured goods bound for the USA.

Posted by Why Stop Now?
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2019 at 2:16 pm

I recently returned from SE Asia & the people involved in the recycling of American trash look forward to each shipment. It is almost like Christmas morning as they enthusiastically wait for the garbage to be unloaded from the various refuse trucks.

Once unloaded, they scramble to the dumpsite and begin separating the recyclables.

That said, we should continue sending our recyclables to SE Asia as it is greatly appreciated. In many respects it is a humanitarian gesture of good will.

Posted by Resident Recycler
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 16, 2019 at 3:49 am

To Make Better Use of Transport -
I hope you are joking.
The Asian shippers have been dumping their plastics and untreated waste into our oceans for decades. They are just now seeing the results.

To "Why Stop Now"
You post is utter BS.
Where exactly did you live in SE Asia?
I lived in SE Asia for 5 years and trash was a HUGE problem.
Chinese entrepreneurs are secretly bringing in shipping containers of plastic waste and trying to hide them in Palm oil and rubber plantations all over the country, and in southern Thailand as well. It has caused horrible pollution to the many rivers which run throughout the plantations. Many of these rivers provide the only source of water to many villages (washing, cooking, and irrigating their crops).
Additionally, some of these uneducated people tried to burn the plastic and then villagers became ill. Schools were closed because children and teachers became sick.
These people have no way to deal with this toxic waste.
The governments say that they will now try to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for bringing these shipping containers into Malaysia via Port Klang.
The only country I was not able to visit was Vietnam and the Philippians.
I can only guess that they are dealing with the same woes.
What you have posted is just plain wrong and mean.

Posted by Education And Restraint
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2019 at 7:19 am

Couldn't these SE Asian countries develop an internal environmental protection agency to educate their inhabitants on how to properly recycle disposables?

The Chinese ships should not be dumping recyclables into the ocean if they are being paid to deliver them to SE Asia. That is just plan wrong.

Nothing wrong with exporting the trash. It's the overseas transporters not delivering it and environmental ignorance at the various recycling sites creating the problems.

Posted by Recycle For Constructive Purposes
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 16, 2019 at 12:57 pm

If the SE Asian recyclers had access to additional technical support and structural engineering expertise they could convert some of this trash into building materials for their residential dwellings.

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