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Dumb and Dirty - January 15, 2019

I heard an ever so brief news snippet on the radio – that China is rejecting recyclables from the US because they do not meet their recently proclaimed cleanliness standards of less than 0.5% contamination. It also turns out that this is not news – it’s just part of an economical cycle where only the most valuable commodities, such as the cleanest recyclables, are marketable.

Nonetheless, some communities do better than others at recycling due largely to their waste management infrastructure. If demand is low, then, only the cleanest sorted bales of material are not trucked off to the landfill. Though it sounds wasteful, it is actually profitable for landfill owners. I also know from taking a tour of a recycling sorting center that no human or machine looks for those little triangle recycling symbols; sorting is largely controlled by human laborers, but that’s just sorting, not cleaning.

Now that I am more educated about recycling, I can certainly improve the quality of my recyclables. I ask myself, do I have less than 0.5% prune juice in the bottle or less than 0.5% graham cracker crumbs in the box? But if I really want to be smart, it is not just cleaning my recyclables but acquiring fewer discardable materials just because they are recyclable.

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