Innovation, recycling must go hand in hand

Soft drinks in plastic containers for sale at a Montebello, Calif., store. (Photo: Philip Pilosian, via Shutterstock)

Like a lighthouse, California has been a beacon of 21st-century environmental policy, pushing the limits of the impossible by setting ambitious, yet attainable goals for the state and its residents and businesses to work toward a healthier future.

So ambitious, in fact, that one major goal, California’s 75% recycling goal, is set to be achieved by 2020.

Just around the corner, the initiative sets a goal of 75% “recycling, composting or source reduction of solid waste by 2020”[1] and calls on state agencies, like CalRecycle, residents, and businesses to work together to do what California does best: find innovative solutions to propel us into the future.

Rather than shipping products to other countries to manage our waste, we can further invest in our own market and continue towards our 2020 goal.

As we move towards achieving this goal, China, a major buyer of California recycled products, has cut back on its waste imports, citing an overwhelming amount. China typically purchases sorted waste and processes recyclable products into new ones.

Meanwhile, California and the United States have not slowed recycling, and nor should we. This poses an extreme problem for recycling sorting facilities as they are seeking domestic secondary markets for these recycled materials.

What is California to do?

Rapidly approaching our 2020 goals, we cannot pull back the reigns on prioritizing the health of our environment. Though complicated, this change in the recycling and waste industry provides an opportunity for environmental regulations and businesses to work as a team to create a new market for processing recycled goods.

Rather than shipping products to other countries to manage our waste, we can further invest in our own market and continue towards our 2020 goal.

This does not mean giving up on recycling. Recycling is an integral part of the way we can achieve near zero to zero waste.

There are already domestic secondary markets for many materials including PET, HDPE, polypropylene, and even expanded polystyrene or polystyrene. The state has an opportunity to encourage more innovation and more secondary markets to open.

During this month – Earth Month – it is a good reminder about what we can all do – take the time to recycle materials the right way and encourage policymakers to invest in innovation to better recycle material and create the needed domestic secondary markets.

We are the state of innovation and we know that together we can develop a modern infrastructure that benefits the environment and moves up closer towards zero waste.

Just because there is an issue with China does not mean it’s time to let our recycling material be landfilled. It is an opportunity to each recycle our materials properly and seek new markets. Improving our waterways, oceans, beaches, and environment needs a comprehensive approach that does not rely on gimmicks like bans but education and investment.

Editor’s Note: Ray Scott is the board president of Keep California Beautiful, a nonprofit environmental group based in Sacramento.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: