The National Sword program in 2017, when China stopped accepting recyclables unless they met the stringent 0.5% contamination rate, had a big impact on recycling.

China was previously a large importer of US recyclables, which now needed to find new markets. (1/n)
According to the article from :

"In 2017, OCRRA earned $125,000 from the sale of recyclables. This year, it will spend $2 million or more."

Now, they are considering charging haulers to bring recyclables in or incinerating them altogether. (3/n)
I had the pleasure of visiting the recycling facility last year and chatting with the staff.

I brought up a lot of the information I see in the #zerowaste sphere, namely addressing what everyone tends to say:

#plastic isn't working, let's move to #glass.

Not so fast. (4/n)
Because the recycling system in the US is primarily single-stream, all recyclables are grouped together regardless of type (cardboard, plastic, glass) and then separated at materials recovery facilities (MRFs).

This has some disadvantages. (5/n)
Though consumers are more likely to #recycle because it's less work, single-stream systems can introduce more contamination and require more sorting mechanisms to separate materials into like groups (cardboard with cardboard, #1 PET #plastic with its friends, etc). (6/n)
This type of sorting, in Onondaga County and many other places, means that recyclables go onto a conveyor belt.

So does the glass.

It tends to break along the line and end up with the other small gunk, shredded paper, and other contaminants. You can't recycle it. (7/n)
Instead, it can be used for landfill cover, incinerated, or end up as #trash.

In 2017, the EPA reported that glass had a 26.6% recycling rate (3 million tons).

1.5 million tons was combusted.

7 million tons went to landfill. (8/n)
Glass is really only the savior the #zerowaste movement portrays it as if it is reused or source-separated.

Source separation happens with some glass bottles, like beer and soda containers accepted at grocery stores. That can be made into new glass! (9/n)
Hence why advocates propose expanding bottle bills, this would allow better source separation and an incentive for people to bring glass in.

To my surprise, the #recycling facility staff I spoke with expressed their markets for plastic are better than glass. (10/n)
And #compostable #plastic isn't a solution either.

Compostable bioplastic requires industrial composting facilities to break down since they can reach high temperatures your #compost pile can't.

They also need to break down within a certain time period (12/n)
#Bioplastic can often be a contaminant.

Some consumers assume they are recyclable, but they only contaminate recycling streams.

If they aren't labeled as Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certified, Onondaga County won't compost them. (13/n)
So that restaurant that recently switched to #bioplastic?

As much as I wish it wasn't #greenwashing, it likely is. Especially if you ask them if they compost... and they don't. (14/n)
So what are some solutions?

I am no economist by any means, but I hope recycling recovers.

However, some products are downgraded in quality when recycled (glass, plastic).

Personally, I'd like to see more systems like Loop and GoBox that have a return and reuse scheme. (15/n)
Decisions on return and reuse should be dictated by detailed Life Cycle Assessments, studies on human behavior, leachables testing, among more!

We can't implement some complicated system and expect people to do it perfectly.
Look at recycling!
To summarize:
1) Recycling is in trouble. You can help by understanding your local facility's rules and following them.
2) Glass is not the answer, it is not easy to recycle in single stream systems.
3) Return and reuse schemes could be a solution... but may be difficult. (17/n)
Lastly, I would sprinkle a nice flavoring of doubt on any "solution" you see advertised as the one true method to end our #recycling and #pollution woes.

As much as I'd love a silver bullet, the answer is far more varied and complicated. That's why we need to work together!

You can follow @wastefreephd.
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