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The power of the blue bin: A check-in on the present and future of recycling in California




Workers sort through cardboard and mixed paper at Recology's Recylce Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Workers sort through cardboard and mixed paper at Recology's Recylce Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Californians are well-trained at separating their recyclables for weekly pickup. But how much of what we separate actually gets recycled?

It turns out that some of what you might be tossing in your blue bin and taking to the curb for pickup won’t end up getting turned into a tote bag, t-shirt or takeout container. Things like broken glass, hunks of PVC pipe, junk mail and shredded paper actually end up in landfills when trash gets sorted rather than at recycling centers. And then there’s the issue of the shrinking overseas markets for recyclable materials.

Paper, for example, was once shipped to China for processing, but China has since stopped accepting ‘contaminated’ material and tightened its standards for what kinds of material it classifies as such.

What is the state of recycling in California and what does the future of recycling look like? How are the different markets for recyclable materials expanding and contracting? Is there enough industrial use to continue to make recycling economically and environmentally sound?

Guests:

Mark Oldfield, communications director at the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), the agency that runs California’s recycling program

Coby Skye, principal engineer for the environmental programs division of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, which implements the county’s recycling program; he tweets @cobster1

John Tierney, science writer and contributing editor to City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s quarterly publication; he tweets @JohnTierneyNYC