Rethinking recycling in Santa Barbara: The plastics you should be throwing out


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Santa Barbara is known for being a green city but do you know exactly what should go in your blue bin?

It turns out some of the items you’re trying to repurpose, may actually cause other recyclables to end up in a landfill. 

Up until recently, China accepted about 50 percent of the world’s plastics.

“Plastics and paper were shipped out of the country and some of those countries, like China, do not want to accept the plastics anymore. A lot of it was really low-grade, flimsy plastic and they were really degrading their environment in order to recycle that for us,” said Bryan Latchford, Environmental Services Outreach Coordinator for the City of Santa Barbara. 

Santa Barbara’s Environmental Services Division is now trying to refocus by making sure there’s no food or water contamination in our recycling bins.

“Bags all of the stuff is not recyclable, it’s super low-grade and it’s just not worth collecting and trying to ship off to get recycled,” said Latchford. 

Mixed paper is still ok and makes up 55 percent of all recyclables.

Metals, cans, beverage or shampoo bottles – you’re good to go.

“Anything that had a liquid in it is great,” said Latchford. 

However, film and food plastics need to be tossed.

“So that’s a plastic that ever had food in it, we want to make sure we put that in the trash, even if it is clean and dry,” said Latchford

These food plastics made up a tiny fraction of all the recyclables that are collected, less than one percent.

But what’s called “wishcycling” is a major problem. 

“Out of all our recyclables that are collected about 20% or just over 20% is trash,” said Latchford. 

Trying to repurpose things that actually belong in the trash, is doing more harm than good.

“The issue is when we have a lot of these wishcycled items, the things that aren’t recyclable they get in the way of the valuable things so some of the valuable things may get looked over,” said Latchford. 

The city plans to roll out tips and new guidelines over the next few months.

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