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Amazon under fire for new packaging that cannot be recycled

Miles Brignall, THE GUARDIAN

Use of plastic envelopes branded a ‘major step backwards’ in fight against pollution

Amazon has been criticised by environmental groups and customers after introducing a range of plastic packaging that cannot be recycled in the UK.

While supermarkets and other retailers have been reducing their use of single use plastics, the world’s biggest online retailer has started sending small items in plastic envelopes, seemingly to allow more parcels to be loaded on to each delivery truck.

Adrian Fletcher, an Amazon customer from Glasgow, is among a number who have complained to the company. He said the move felt like a “major step backwards” in the fight against plastic.

“My husband is disabled, and we rely a lot on Amazon and other home deliveries. Previously our small orders arrived in easily recyclable cardboard packaging, but a few months ago Amazon started using plastic envelopes. I diligently recycle all the packaging but can’t these,” he said.

“The supermarkets have all been dropping carrier bags from their online deliveries, but Amazon is going the other way – it’s madness. I have asked them not to ship my orders using plastic packaging but this falls on deaf ears.”

Amazon’s Second Chance website, which details how customers should recycle its packaging, states the Prime-branded envelopes are “not widely recycled across the UK”.
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It is thought that Amazon ships between 4bn and 5bn parcels a year worldwide. In February, the Washington Post reported on how the new Amazon envelopes were clogging up US recycling centres as consumers were wrongly placing them in recycling bins.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/aug/20/amazon-under-fire-for-new-packaging-that-cant-be-recycled

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Petaluma crafting goal of zero waste by 2030

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

With nearby landfills expected to reach their capacity in the coming decades, Petaluma officials are pursuing a zero waste goal that could also help lay the foundation for future policies on climate change.

City officials are currently ironing out the details of a resolution that will ask the Petaluma community to reduce its landfill deposits by more than 90% within 11 years by reusing many items.

Petaluma’s garbage is dumped at the Redwood Landfill in Novato, which is expected to reach its permitted capacity in 2032, said Patrick Carter, management analyst for Petaluma’s Public Works and Utilities Department.

An expansion beyond its permitted limit might be possible, he said, but that could lead to future cost increases that would trickle down to households and businesses.

The entire Bay Area will hit its capacity by 2058, according to a 2016 report by CalRecycle, the state agency that regulates landfills.

“That’s not too far in the future,” Carter said. “Just like we’ve done with water conservation and energy efficiency programs when we’re presented with a challenge like that, we’ve found that prevention is more effective than remediation.”

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9742730-181/petaluma-crafting-goal-of-zero

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The US recycling system is garbage

Edward Humes, SIERRA MAGAZINE

For nearly three decades your recycling bin contained a dirty secret: Half the plastic and much of the paper you put into it did not go to your local recycling center. Instead, it was stuffed onto giant container ships and sold to China.

Around 1992, US cities and trash companies started offshoring their most contaminated, least valuable “recyclables” to a China that was desperate for raw materials. There, the dirty bales of mixed paper and plastic were processed under the laxest of environmental controls. Much of it was simply dumped, washing down rivers to feed the crisis of ocean plastic pollution. Meanwhile, America’s once-robust capability to sort, clean, and recycle its own waste deteriorated. Why invest in expensive technology and labor when the mess could easily be bundled off to China?

Then in 2018, as part of a domestic crackdown on pollution, China banned imports of dirty foreign garbage. In the United States, the move was depicted almost as an act of aggression. (It didn’t help that the Chinese name for the crackdown translated as National Sword.) Massive amounts of poor-quality recyclables began piling up at US ports and warehouses. Cities and towns started hiking trash-collection fees or curtailing recycling programs, and headlines asserted the “death of recycling” and a “recycling crisis.”

But a funny thing happened on recycling’s road to the graveyard. China’s decision to stop serving as the world’s trash compactor forced a long-overdue day of reckoning—and sparked a movement to fix a dysfunctional industry. “The whole crisis narrative has been wrong,” says Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers. “China didn’t break recycling. It has given us the opportunity to begin investing in the infrastructure we need in order to do it better.”

Read more at https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-4-july-august/feature/us-recycling-system-garbage?mostpopular=true

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Op-Ed: Upset about the plastic crisis? Stop trying so hard

Roland Geyer, THE GUARDIAN

Did you ever decide to get off a jammed freeway and take the backroads even though deep down you knew that it wouldn’t be any faster? Are you constantly switching to the faster lane on a busy freeway even though you notice that cars sticking to their lanes keep catching up with you?

Both are examples of action bias, the phenomenon in which people prefer doing something over doing nothing, even if the likely outcome of the action is worse than the outcome of inaction. Research has shown that actively managed portfolios tend to do worse than passive investments. And one study found that soccer goalkeepers prefer to jump left or right during a penalty-kick, even though the best thing would be to stay put in the middle.

A prime case study of how action bias gets in the way of solving environmental problems is plastic in the oceans. The discovery of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch alerted the world to the issue of plastic marine debris. It turned out to be everywhere, not just in that specific patch or any of the other large circulating ocean currents known as gyres. In fact, there is growing consensus that only a minute fraction of all ocean plastic is on the surface, and that the vast majority is probably on the ocean floor. This has not stopped a growing number of ocean plastic action heroes from wanting to clean up the gyres.

The best known of them, The Ocean Cleanup, last year launched a 2,000ft-long boom, made of plastic, to gather plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. Unfortunately, the boom didn’t work, broke apart and had to be towed back onshore. Even if we also somehow figured out how to vacuum plastics from the ocean floor, these technologies would not stop new plastic from constantly entering the oceans.

The cheapest and most effective solution to ocean plastic is strangely also the one that is least talked about.

It is this: making and using less plastic.

Virtually everyone I know is genuinely upset about plastic pollution in the oceans, and at parties I am routinely cornered in the kitchen with questions about which of the myriad of single-use plastic items on open display can be recycled, and whether they actually will be recycled if thrown into the recycling bin.

Yet while people put enormous effort and hope into recycling, they don’t give source reduction much thought at all. The west used to send much of its recycling to China for processing, and China’s recent decision to no longer accept it because of environmental concerns has sparked an intense debate about how to fix our obviously broken recycling system. It would be so much easier and more effective to make and use less, and thus reduce our need to recycle in the first place.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/23/upset-about-the-plastic-crisis-stop-trying-so-hard

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SCWMA is now Zero Waste

Xinci Tan, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

PRESS RELEASE: For 27 years, you’ve known us as the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency (SCWMA), but starting in 2019, our new name is Zero Waste Sonoma. Our mission and values will stay the same, but our name and logo are changing to better reflect our identity as a government agency separate from, but related to, Sonoma County. This new brand also captures the regional commitment to achieving zero waste by 2030. This means diverting 100% of all material from landfills and into more beneficial use. Our new colors and streamlined design were thoughtfully chosen to match the progressive community we serve and increase accessibility to a broader and more diverse audience.

As the joint powers authority for the unincorporated area and nine cities and towns in Sonoma County, we continue to be the local government authority on recycling and solid waste disposal. Zero Waste Sonoma exists to serve you: the residents and businesses of Sonoma County. We want to help you reduce, reuse, recycle, and discard all materials in the safest and most environmentally responsible way possible.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/the-scwma-is-now-zero-waste-sonoma-2019

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As costs skyrocket, more U.S. cities stop recycling

Michael Corkery, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/16/business/local-recycling-costs.html

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Single-use plastics need comprehensive federal legislation

Julia Stein, LEGAL PLANET

Plastic pollution appears to be arising ever more frequently in the news. Companies like Starbucks have announced voluntary steps to rid their stores of plastic straws. China is wielding its “National Sword” policy, which places restrictions on the amount and type of plastic waste it will accept from abroad, which has prompted cries for improvements to recycling technologies and infrastructure in the United States. A young entrepreneur designed a floating boom intended to rake up debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a large accumulation of plastic debris and other waste floating in the Pacific Ocean—but it returned to port in pieces in early January, battered by unrelenting wind and waves, indicating the challenges of ocean cleanup.

All this attention is warranted: There are trillions of pieces of plastic debris in the oceans, and over 700 species—including 84 percent of sea turtle species—have been impacted. Marine wildlife can mistake plastic debris for food, and necropsies of birds, sea turtles, and whales have shown stomachs full with plastic. Plastic pollution affects humans as well: Plastic has made its way into our food, our table salt, and our drinking water. Chemicals used in plastic, like bisphenol A, have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and adverse developmental consequences in children.

Comprehensive federal legislation to address single-use plastics does not yet exist in the United States. Instead, the conversation has focused on encouraging foreign governments to control plastic waste, making improvements to recycling and waste management infrastructure, and promoting voluntary steps industries can take to improve plastic products and reduce waste.

Missing from that conversation is a critical piece of the puzzle: reducing consumption of single-use plastic at the source to limit the amount of plastic trash Americans generate. To reduce single-use plastics more effectively, Congress must step in and regulate through source control.

Source control is important for a number of reasons. Less than 10 percent of the world’s plastic waste is recycled, and many kinds of single-use plastic waste, like thin plastic bags and Styrofoam, cannot be recycled entirely.

Read more at https://legal-planet.org/2019/02/28/single-use-plastics-need-comprehensive-federal-legislation/

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US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports

Oliver Milman, THE GUARDIAN

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins.
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But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government.

It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse.

The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/feb/21/philadelphia-covanta-incinerator-recyclables-china-ban-imports

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Op-Ed: Berkeley declares war on throwaway culture

Annie Leonard & Martin Bourque, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Any American school kid can recite the common wisdom for tackling our massive plastic trash problem: reduce, reuse, recycle.

But it’s not that simple.

Addressing plastic pollution has to focus far more on reducing and reusing. It is simply not a problem we can recycle our way out of.

People assume that when they toss plastic packaging into a bin, it will get collected, recycled and finally transformed into another plastic product. This is a convenient fiction, actively promoted by the plastic industry.

The reality is that much of the plastic tossed into bins ends up in landfills, or it gets shipped overseas to countries that lack infrastructure to deal with it properly.

Plastic was never recycled at a high level, and it’s even worse since 2018, when China closed its doors to imported mixed plastic waste. U.S. recyclers have shifted exports to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but those countries lack the capacity to handle the volume we’re sending, which has brought them new environmental problems.

Moreover, despite our willingness to move plastic waste around the world, only about 9 percent of the plastic ever made has been recycled. We just keep making more of the stuff. If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t immediately reach for a mop — you’d first turn off the tap. That’s what we need to do with single-use plastics.

Berkeley recently passed a law that moves us a step closer to that, and it’s something that should be replicated across the country. The ordinance does not simply ban plastic foodware, leaving businesses to replace it with other throwaway materials: It rejects throwaway culture altogether.

Beginning immediately, Berkeley will require that accessory items such as utensils, straws, lids and sleeves be provided by request only and that food vendors have compost bins for all customers. In January 2020, the city will also require that all disposable takeout foodware be Biodegradable Products Institute-certified compostable and that vendors charge 25 cents for hot and cold takeout cups. If a customer brings a reusable cup, the charge is not applied. And by July 1, 2020, the ordinance will require that all eat-in dining be on reusable foodware.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9250139-181/leonard-and-bourque-berkeley-declares

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Needles found at Recology recycling centers in Sonoma County at alarming rates

Alexandria Bordas, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Joseph Essig has encountered more hypodermic needles on the sorting line at Recology Sonoma Marin than at any other recycling center he has managed in previous years. So many, in fact, that the number of needles he’s seen is too hard to quantify.

On heavier days, sorters count hundreds of needles passing through the lines in a single shift. In one particularly bad period last year, he said his team was filling 50-gallon containers of hypodermic needles every six or seven weeks.

Not only is the exposure to needles dangerous to the health of workers, Essig said it is also costly and time consuming. The sorting line is immediately shut down each time a needle is spotted, he said, stopping the work flow. For every hour work is stalled, it costs $600, the company estimates.

“It was getting to the point where we were seeing needles nightly,” said Essig, the company’s operations manager.

Recology officials say too many people are using recycling bins to dispose of used needles and other “sharps” — medical devices designed to pierce the skin, like syringes, lancets and pen injectors.

It is a dangerous problem for the workers who use their hands to sort waste placed in the blue recycling bins. Most people do not realize that there are humans touching their recyclables to prevent them from going into the landfill, said Celia Furber, Recology’s waste zero manager.

“Whatever people put in recycling bins, we have human sorters sifting through all of it,” Furber said. “They are extremely hazardous to workers.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9246444-181/needles-found-at-recology-recycling