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“I’ve read and heard about the China issue—you know that they’ve closed their borders and are no longer accepting our recyclable materials – so I was wondering if our stuff even gets recycled anymore?”

I do a lot of presentations and trainings, and 90 percent of the time I get this question … and the answer is a resounding YES! Yes, your recyclable material is being recycled, at least for the City and unincorporated areas of south Napa County.

Continue to recycle the RECYCLABLES (remember those are: clean paper and cardboard, glass, metal/cans, RIGID plastics, and cartons) and do your best to not be a dirty recycler (no liquids, no soiled/dirty paper, no shoes/clothes/linens, no food, no diapers, no …).

The City of Napa and Napa Recycling and Waste Services have been lucky thus far in being able to continue to have markets for our recyclable materials. Though it continues to be a bumpy road of reduced prices and dwindling markets, all of our recyclable materials are being sorted, processed, bailed and shipped to be remade into new things (except glass, which stays locally and is recycled in Fairfield).

With the passing of Earth Day and Earth Day Napa celebration on Sunday, I wanted to share some kind tips on how to reduce your eco-impact, fun facts, and overall compost-y kinds of things.

I work (and live) in the waste prevention world, so of course I would focus on following thoughts:

1. Reduce: It is number one in the hierarchy for a reason – waste prevention is the best answer since you won’t have that discarded product or packaging (trash/recycling/compost) to deal with in the first place.

2. Reuse: Can you purchase it already reused? Can you reuse it and give it a new life through local thrift stores or DIY (do it yourself) projects? (I just had 20 shirts made into a T-shirt quilt and the backsides into rags!)

3. Recycle: Is lower on the list because hopefully you are reducing first, then reusing, and whatever left is recycled – which isn’t always the case, based on what and how you buy.

4. Rebuy: Pay attention and actively look for products and packaging with the highest amount of “post-consumer” recycled content possible. While any recycled content is good, post-consumer recycled content means you have truly helped “close the loop” from the end consumer to recycling collection/processor back to the remanufacturer of a new product.

Consider:

- HOW you purchase things (are they individually wrapped? What is it packaged in? Are there more sustainable options – glass vs. plastic, bulk items vs. individually wrapped, etc.)

- WHAT the items are made from (natural sponge vs. synthetic plastic sponge, bar soap vs. liquid soap, bamboo toothbrush vs. plastic toothbrush)

- THINK about what happens to the item at the end of life? Where does it end up? How long will it last in that landfill (or in the environment if it never makes it to a landfill)?

- Is it really needed/wanted? There is a new article that says wait 30–60 days before purchasing that thing you so desperately want – those days in between allow you to really know if it is a passing desire or not.

Simple changes make a huge impact! And you have the greatest opportunity to impact the system. If you are done with cheap plastic and tell a producer through changing your spending habits or signing a petition, change will happen. We are seeing it more and more (check out Trader Joe’s commitment to reduce plastic, Haagen-Dazs pilot reusable program, ALDI’s commitment to only reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025 and reduce plastic usage by 15 percent or more, and more).

Did you know that glass and aluminum can be recycled forever, while rigid plastics lose integrity over time? And while paper also loses fiber strength each time it is recycled, it is a material type (unlike plastics) that is renewable, recyclable (when clean) and locally compostable (when dirty).

And though the international recycling world is having trouble right now, our other superstar (which is a closed loop system with a bow tied on top!), compost, is not affected at all – so remember you can put ALL your food/food scraps, SOILED PAPER (!!!), and yard trimmings into your brown compost cart. Those are composted right here in Napa, and the compost is used in local vineyards, gardens, landscapes and farms.

And because I always, always, always get questions about this –

1. Paper towels are compostable and not recyclable;

2. Waxed paper/butcher paper is compostable;

3. Waxy/shiny coated paper plates, PIZZA BOXES, paper based to go containers, and hot coffee cups are compostable (and not recyclable)!

So start putting anything that was ever alive, plant or animal, into that brown compost cart and feel confident that you are making a HUGE difference by doing so. Check out NapaRecycling.com for posters, some tips and tricks on keeping your compost cart not icky, and being a clean recycler! And remember, these rules are true for City and unincorporated Napa County.

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This monthly column is written by Kendra Bruno, aka Compost Girl, who is the waste prevention specialist for the city of Napa. To submit questions, email kbruno@cityofnapa.org.

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