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Your recycling, if it is recyclable, does not end up in a landfill.

Yes, the recycling market is struggling, mostly due to China’s National Sword Policy, but also due to devalued recyclable materials caused by “wishful recycling”; the lack of domestic infrastructure; the low cost of virgin plastic; confusing and sometimes misleading product labeling; and the lack of extended producer responsibility, just to name just a few.

China’s National Sword Policy, enacted in early 2018, bans the import of the world’s trash to China. It was enacted because mixed in with the bales of recyclables shipped to China for decades was a large amount of non-recyclable materials, i.e. trash, and China isn’t willing to deal with the leftover contaminated and non-recyclable materials anymore.

When a goliath like China, that had been processing 60 percent of the world’s recyclables, shuts its doors, the local markets get flooded. Now the worldwide recycling industry is scrambling to find new and alternate markets, with many countries lacking the infrastructure to process and use recycled materials to manufacture new products. While Napa County is fortunate to be close to the Port of Oakland, providing access to other available markets that currently exist, it is still a very challenging time for the industry.

We all must renew our efforts to clean up our recycling, and to do this we must stop wishful recycling, advocate for the development of domestic infrastructure, and demand that manufacturers take some responsibility for their products end-of-life.

Wishful recycling is when you toss an item in the recycling bin that you hope is recyclable (like plastic bags or Styrofoam) or that you think should be recyclable, but it is not. It also covers those moments when you don’t actually know, but are confused by labels, or assume that because recyclables are sorted at the recycling facility, it will all be OK because the sorters will figure it out. Unfortunately, non-recyclable items in your blue cart result in increased sorting time and a decrease in the quality of the materials for potential markets. Don’t be a wishful recycler!

When you have doubt, check our website, UVDS.com, or a search engine to determine the recyclability of a material. As a reminder — Styrofoam, hoses, electrical cords, and film/soft/flimsy plastic – non-recyclable items we receive on a regular basis mixed in with other recyclables – are NOT accepted in Upper Valley Recycling blue carts. These items must be disposed of in the trash.

In this industry, we are hoping that domestic infrastructure to process and utilize recycled materials becomes a reality. Instead of shipping recycled materials across the world to turn into new products, why not have that capacity available to us locally or regionally?

At the same time, we must demand that producers of products take more responsibility for where their products and packaging end up. It’s called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and it means that the manufacturer has a shared responsibility for a product at its end-of-life. Environmental impacts should be considered at all steps of the design and manufacture of products and/or producers should participate in programs that facilitate convenient and effective recycling of their products.

An EPR example is PaintCare, a nonprofit organization acting on behalf of paint producers, which operates free drop-off sites for paint recycling. A 75-cent fee on each gallon of paint consumers purchase funds the drop-off sites and management of leftover and unwanted paint.

What can you do to help? ONLY put recyclables in your recycling bin so that the materials retain value! Recyclable materials include bottles and cans, metal, clean paper, cardboard, rigid plastics and glass. Containers should be empty and rinsed. Recyclables should be placed loose in your recycling big (do not use a bag), if you feel bags are necessary please use a clear bag. Recyclables received in opaque bags will not be recycled, as recycling facility staff will assume the opaque bag is full of trash.

Visit countyofnapa.org/recycling for printable flyers showing examples of what is recyclable. If you’re motivated, write a letter to a product manufacturer, telling them that you like their product, but that you wish it or the packaging was recyclable or made from recyclable material.

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Amanda Griffis is a staff member of the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency and Environmental Resource Specialist, Napa County Public Works.

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