Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Field trip to the recycling center

On Saturday I went to the Burbank Recycle Center on a field trip with my neighborhood group from the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. (What a mouthful!) We met with Craig, one of the recycling experts who works there and he gave as an overview of how recycling works at this recycling center and lots of information about what can and can't be recycled and why.

I had about a million mini-epiphanies during the two hours I was there, but I'm just going to list a few of the major take-aways that I absorbed.
  • A lot of things count as hazardous waste, including anything that has electronic parts like circuit boards. These cannot be put in the trash or the recycle bin and must be taken to a special collection site. Los Angeles County has various collection points for their S.A.F.E. program. They are mostly just open on the weekend, but they are free to all residents of L.A. County.
  • Individual cities have individual rules for what materials they will accept to recycle. For instance, Burbank doesn't take plastic bags, but the city of Los Angeles does. This is because each city has different facilities with different equipment as there is little standardization. The Burbank Recycle Center is owned by the city of Burbank and operated by a private company.
  • Obviously the best way to avoid waste is to reduce your consumption in the first place. We talked a lot about refusing things like plastic bags at stores, and also about putting pressure on companies to take responsibility for the waste their products create. Some companies already pay for the recycling of their products, such as computer batteries, but many do not. Sustainable package design is a large part of this.
  • In order to get companies to realize that consumers want to be able to recycle or avoid using extra packaging, Craig recommends you take your plastic bags and wrappers back to the grocery store you bought them from and put them in the recycle bins they have at the front of the store. That way the store and the manufacturers can see how much there is and that consumers want them to be accountable for it. You can also call the customer service numbers on products and let the companies know your thoughts directly.
  • At the Burbank Recycle Center 90,000 to 100,000 tons of material come through every year. 70-80% of that is paper, which gets bundled and sent to China to be made into paper again. 10% is not recyclable and gets sent to the landfill.
  • Items made from multiple materials are not easily recycled. For instance, the cardboard/foil/plastic combo of antiseptic boxes that hold chicken stock and soup and the like are not recyclable. Buy tin cans instead, as they are much easier to recycle.
  • I think if you are interested in being a responsible member of the community, visiting a landfill and/or recycling center is a great way to get a vivid picture of the waste we create as a society. It's really clear that what we've been doing for the last hundred years isn't sustainable
  • It makes you think about the economy in different ways. I feel good when I can reuse something. I like getting more use out of clothing I buy at a used clothing store, and I certainly donate as much of my used items as I can. Buying used appliances makes me feel great - they have lots of wear left in them, and I'm not creating waste by buying something that comes in a lot of styrofoam and cardboard packaging. But how does that affect our consumer-based economy? I'm not sure, and there are obviously lots of things I still buy new. Something to think about.
Recycling is important, and it's important to know what is recyclable and what is not. But getting to a point where what you are sending the landfill and recycling center is drastically less due to refusing, reusing and composting, is probably the most sustainable model of all.

Creative Commons photo of bundled paper posted to Flickr by Derrick Coetzee
Creative Commons photo of tetra paks posted to Flickr by Tetra Pak

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

1 comment:

  1. This is so interesting. It really does vary place to place. In Brooklyn we can recycle orange juice cartons and soup boxes, and grocery stores are required by law to have plastic bag recycling in the store, though the city does not recycle them. I just joined my community garden, a block away, so now we can compost all of our food scraps. And as a bonus, we can pick and eat whatever is growing there for free!