Mix trash with your recyclables? Expect higher taxes, CalRecycle says

When Californians leave their recyclables on the curb each week, it is the first step in an international waste conversion journey. At least a third of all California recyclables are exported overseas. Many recyclables end up in Japan, Germany or Mexico, countries that purchase them in bulk to manufacture them into new usable materials. But the great majority of California recycling products get shipped to China, where a whopping 15 million tons of recyclables were shipped by boat from California ports last year.

Next year, all of this might change. China is taking a stand against poor recycling practices.

Beginning in 2018, China will raise the standard for recycling shipments accepted in their country. Going forward, shipments containing hazardous waste or a high ratio of garbage to recyclables will be rejected. China cited environmental contamination and public health as primary concerns for the new restrictions in a filing with the World Trade Organization this year. Money is also an issue, as sifting large quantities of trash from recyclables increases processing times and costs.

Just as individuals tend to turn away from recycling when it becomes inconvenient or costs money, large companies on the West Coast are turning to landfills as a cheaper and easier alternative to facing strict regulations on recyclables. CalRecycle, the state agency that promotes recycling and waste management resources, suggests adopting a European model and charging Californians for dumping trash to discourage resorting to landfills.

"Europe’s solid waste policies encourage higher landfill fees and landfill taxes as a strategy to drive material away from landfills," CalRecycle says. However, CalRecycle made no comment on the problems that result from high trash disposal costs in Europe. "Fly tipping," or illegal dumping, continues to be a problem in the UK as offenders leave bags of trash and even hazardous waste in rivers, on highways and on private property.

Whatever the case, if California recyclers don't clean up their act, millions of tons of recyclables will have to find a new destination, and it's shaping up to be our landfills.


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