Many of you are probably already aware of the fact that China is no longer receiving most of our recyclable waste. They are producing plenty of their own, plus shipments from the U.S. are often too contaminated to have value as most Americans have yet to take recycling seriously.
So, what is there to do? Go back to landfilling all our waste? That would be 254 million tons per year. We currently recycle about one-third of that and the need is for that percentage to significantly increase, not decrease.
The obvious answer is to start taking care of our own waste. After all, it is only waste when it is wasted. When properly handled it becomes a resource. That's why we recycle. It is not just to save landfill space. We are consuming the earth's resources at an unprecedented rate and one which is unsustainable in the not-very-long run. The population of the earth has more than doubled in our lifetimes and according to a new UN report the amount of the planet's natural resources extracted for human use has tripled in 40 years.
Fortunately, California is doing something about it, both privately and publicly. The state has awarded grants to several companies that are collecting recyclable material and creating high quality feed stock and retail products.
One such company is rPanetEarth. The state agency, CalRecycles, recently awarded them a $2 million grant to build a 302,000 sq. ft. facility in Southern California. They will be taking in baled post-consumer PET [PET, polyethylene terephthalate)], including material from curbside collections, then sort, wash, decontaminate and convert it into food and drink packaging. It will be capable of producing about 80 million pounds of finished product per year. An rPanetEarth spokesperson states that in reading sustainability reports from major companies, he often hears them say they’d use more RPET (recycled PET) if it were available, competitively priced and of high quality. He noted that China’s ban on recovered plastic imports is “a big positive for us.” Coca-Cola has already given scientific approval to their bottle-grade flake production technologies.
Revolution Plastics is another company that has received a grant for CalRecycles. They provide free pickup of agricultural plastics – most low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film or irrigation tubing – to more than 400 dairies, growers, almond hullers and other agriculture-related processors in California and is the largest agricultural plastic collection operation in the state.
Currently, Revolution Plastics’ collected plastic is shipped from its consolidation yards in Central California to Delta Plastics’ facility in Arkansas, where it is washed and converted to resin and used in manufacturing processes to produce can liners, irrigation tubing, agricultural cover films, plastic lumber and other construction and agricultural films. Since its inception 18 months ago, Revolution Plastics is responsible for the collection of over 30 million pounds of used plastic in California. The grant will help Revolution Plastics establish a recycling and manufacturing plant in Central California. The plant is expected to begin production this year and to employ more than 100 California workers in disadvantaged communities within the next three years. This is in addition to the recycling benefits, which include an annual reduction of 39,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents and an annual 20,000 net tons of newly diverted material from landfills.
Command Packaging is another company that collects and processes some of the 150 million pounds of agricultural plastic used and disposed of EVERY YEAR in California. They have engineered resin for use in dozens of applications, such as new agricultural plastics, composite lumber, retail carry out bags, and even their own line of reusable bags they call Smart bags. Their facility houses their own state-of-the-art water treatment system, where they treat approximately 1,000,000 gallons per day of their own process water and re-use it to wash plastic over and over again.
Peninsula Plastics Recycling is another recipient of CalRecycles grants. They specialize in processing redemption, curbside, and industrial scrap plastics into clean, ready-to-use recycled plastic in the form of pellets or flakes. They have a current annual production capacity of over 50 million pounds.
A company called Sioneer has also been favored by CaRecycles. Their equipment grinds glass into a multitude of sizes, allowing their materials to have a variety of applications in virtually any industry from beach sand replenishment, blasting abrasives, and water filtration media, to pozzolan, a necessary ingredient in concrete production.
75% of the national total glass supply is landfilled each year, because traditional processing relies on technology and markets that can’t effectively recycle all the glass. Due to their new and innovative process, all glass can now be recycled and repurposed, and kept out of landfills.
Cement is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. By replacing a substantial portion with Sioneer's pozzolan alternative in concrete mixtures, they dramatically decrease emissions. For every ton of cement replaced with glass powder, we save 1 ton of GHG. Furthermore their product contains none of the dangerous crystalline silica.
Finally, there is Reliance Carpet Cushion. They divert 5 billion pounds of pull-up carpet from being disposed in our landfills annually. Their carpet liner is made from 100% recycled material and is 100% recyclable as well as having no chemical additives, the off-gassing of which is frequently noted as being a problem for many people.
This is all good news.
They may have been a time when natural resources seemed so plentiful that they could never run out. Waste was rarely a big issue. Many resources seemed so cheap and available that recycling to acquire new feedstock seemed more like a bother than a necessity.
Things have changed, despite our collective desire to ignore that fact.
A study by the World Wildlife Fund, based on scientific data from across the world, reveals that more than a third of the natural world has been destroyed by humans over the past three decades. At our current rate of consumption, the report concludes that the natural resources of the earth will be deplete by 2050.
That is some serious stuff. We can't just hope that Jesus will show up and transport us all (or at least some of us) to heaven. Plants and animals are becoming extinct every day and we don't seem to mind much, but how many of us have actually considered the fact that humans are also threatened with extinction?
At least California is trying to do something about it.