Despite Good Intentions, Some Plastics Aren’t Suitable for Recycling | Local News


Santa Barbara city and county officials trying to get the word about about recycling changes since China stopped taking America’s plastic

Elementary school ‘Water Guardians’  learn about recycling and protecting the environment.
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The Community Environmental Council works with elementary school ‘Water Guardians’ to learn about recycling and protecting the environment. In Santa Barbara, officials are trying to get the word out about the recycling changes, and what specifically to do with plastic bags, plastic films and soft plastic. (Community Environmental Council photo)

China’s decision last year to halt recycling of America’s plastics is forcing environmentally conscious people to rethink how they should dispose of their trash.

In Santa Barbara, officials are trying to get the word out about the recycling changes, and what specifically to do with plastic bags, plastic films and soft plastic. 

“Plastic items tend to be contaminated, mostly with food, and China has tightened restrictions on acceptable levels of contamination,” said Kathi King, director of outreach and education for the Community Environmental Council. “Plastic melts at all different temperatures, so food doesn’t always burn off.”

Contrary to popular belief, plastic bags have never been recyclable, King said, as they tend to jam up the conveyor belt systems at recycling centers. 

The U.S. had been sending its plastics bags and plastic films, such as chips and frozen food wrappers, to China. 

“There are too many types of plastic and sorting through it for possible value has been something that we have been outsourcing for several years,” King said. “Other countries have less stringent environmental regulations so they often incinerate what they can’t recycle, leading to poor air quality, unhealthy working conditions and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’ve basically been offshoring our plastic waste, a situation that was not sustainable.”

Rene Eyerly, environmental services manager for the city of Santa Barbara, said plastic bags gum up the machinery that sorts through other plastics.

“Now they are just considered contaminants in materials we are trying to sell,” Eyerly said. 

Other soft plastics, such as frozen yogurt containers and food containers, will find a new destination — the landfill.

“Because of the China shutdown and other Asian countries, most of them aren’t taking them as well,” Eyerly said. “There’s no money in them. They are just trashing them, and honestly they were mostly trashing them in the past.”

The city and the county are planning a big public outreach campaign to tell residents to start putting their soft plastics in the trash instead of the recycling bin.

The MarBorg Recycling Center in Santa Barbara.
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The MarBorg Recycling Center in Santa Barbara.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“The good news is that soft plastic are less than one percent of the total amount of recyclables that we collect, so it doesn’t impact our diversion, and putting them in the trash helps keep our valuable recyclables, like paper, cardboard, glass and our metals, clean and able to be marketed and marketed for the best price possible and be re-used,” Eyerly said.

Film plastics can also be dropped off at Ablitt’s Dry Cleaning, 14 W. Gutierrez St, the CEC at 26 West Anapamu St., and Channelkeeper, 714 Bond Ave.

Penny Owens, education and community outreach director for the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, urged people to find alternative ways to re-use plastic bags.

“Find creative ways to reuse the plastic bags that you do have such as using them as trash can liners for small trash bins or to pick up pet waste,” Owens said. “Most importantly, though, would be to reduce the use of plastic bags in the first place.

“One can do this by bringing your own reusable bags for all your shopping needs from the grocery store, pharmacy, and even for retail shopping trips.”

King said there’s a simple way to deal with the issue of plastic bags.

“The best single-use plastic is the one we don’t use in the first place,” King said. “Making products out of fossil fuels that have a potential lifespan of decades if not centuries that we use, toss in a few minutes, is not a good use of resources. Our landfills, other countries and our oceans are bearing the brunt of all this litter.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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