Below are questions and answers that were posed in our Getting Real About Plastics and Recycling Webinar. CEC staff and webinar panelists have endeavored to answer these questions to the best of our ability and have provided additional resources for you to dig deeper into topics discussed. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact Kathi King, Director of Outreach and Education at CEC or Penny Owens, Education and Community Outreach Director at Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. Did you miss this webinar? Watch it here.
Question: How do we know what is and is not recyclable in Santa Barbara?
Answer: Every city and county has different guidelines for what can and cannot be recycled. We recommend visiting your region’s city and county waste sites for more information. Here are a few resources for our region:
- Review MarBorg Industries’ website for information on how to dispose of anything – and stay tuned for details on how to handle mattresses and bulky items. If you have questions, contact Customer Service at (805) 963-1852 or Sarah Stark at [email protected].
- Visit the City of Santa Barbara’s Trash & Recycling website for information on trash and recycling services and waste reduction ordinances. If you have questions, contact Hillary Allen at [email protected].
- Check out the County of Santa Barbara’s Less Is More website for waste reduction resources and to learn more about hazardous waste, electronics recycling, home composting, and much more.
Q: Do I need to pay attention to the numbers on plastic items?
A: Ignore the numbers on your plastic items – those were never meant for public consumption and are used by plastic manufacturers to identify the type of plastic used. See the resources listed above for what can and cannot be recycled in our region.
Q: How do I identify which types of plastics can be recycled?
A: Visit MarBorg Industries’ website and click on “plastics” for information on what types of plastics can and cannot be recycled, including bottle caps, plastics used to store food, laundry detergent bottles, styrofoam and other common items.
Q: How do I recycle odd items, like water filters, ballpoint pens, etc?
A: Reach out to the company that made or sold the item to you to find out if there is a recycle program for that item. Oftentimes, there is. TerraCycle also offers a Zero Waste Box which allows you to recycle almost any type of waste, from your coffee capsules to complex laboratory waste (there might be a charge for this).
Q: Are single use bags and other film plastics that cannot be placed in my blue bin recyclable?
A: Film plastic is any type of plastic that can fold easily in your hands: plastic bags, bubble wrap, cling wrap, etc. Ablitt’s is no longer accepting film plastic drop-offs in their lobby, but you can make an appointment when they have a designated drop-off day. Email [email protected] to request to receive information about upcoming dates. Learn more about plastic film recycling on CEC’s website or Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s website.
Q: Are consumers doing a good job of sorting their recyclables? I heard that if we do not sort our blue bins correctly, those mixed recyclables usually end up in the landfill.
A: About 60% of what goes into the landfill currently should not go there at all. From that 60%, half is recyclable and half is compostable. The Santa Barbara County Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division is actively trying to tackle this issue and reduce the amount of recyclables and compostables that go into the landfill.
Q: Why don’t we partner with companies like Terracycle to recycle hard to use plastics?
A: There are some programs like that, but it does require having a bin to collect it and then to send it to them – and there is a charge for their collection bin and the mailing. There is also a lot of energy used to transport the materials to them.
Q: Can I tour the Tajiguas Landfill?
A: The County of Santa Barbara does give great tours of the landfill, but not at the moment due to COVID-19. Check out www.lessimore.org for more information.
Q: Do the local agencies work cooperatively to accept the same thing?
A: They do if they are contracted with the same landfill or transfer station.
Plastic Use Reduction
Q: How can you reduce your plastic use at the grocery store while also keeping your produce clean and protected from the germs on the check out conveyor belt?
A: Bring your own reusable bags, produce cartons or containers for loose items – and wash them when you get home.
Q: I read that reusable bags are actually ultimately worse for the environment (resources and energy used to produce, etc). What guidelines should we follow for building our reusable product inventories?
A: Well let’s be careful with that statement! Organic cotton bags need to be used 100+ times before they become better for the planet than plastic. Continue to use your reusable bags but make sure to be mindful about purchasing more bags. I know a lot of companies give out bags as gifts.
Q: What happens to all the dog poop picked up with plastic bags – are they recyclable?
A: A plastic bag that contains dog poop is not recyclable and must be put in the trash. Unfortunately, using compostable dog poop bags is actually worse for the environment than plastic bags since the compostable bags emit methane in the landfill. Here’s a tip: Reuse a plastic bag you already have (bread bags, etc) a second time for dog poop collection.
Q: Why not work towards replacing plastic film packaging with old fashioned cellophane or waxed paper?
A: Cellophane is also petroleum based and non-recyclable. Wax paper (especially the cloth-based reusable kind) is definitely better but not as user-friendly which is likely why it has lost its popularity. We are open to lots of reusable options, but one that we like is Stasher – a reusable zip lock style bag made of food grade silicone.
Q: How do we get more people in our community interested in upcycling and pre-cycling?
A: We welcome ideas but we are most interested in source reduction – not using these items in the first place will reduce pollution, especially for the underserved communities who bear the burden of living near extraction and manufacturing.
Q: In our Homeowner’s Association, the board cannot get residents to pay close attention to what they put in the recycle bins. I make signs and put them on the bins, but I don’t think everyone is reading the signs or paying attention to what they can and cannot put in the bins. What can I do?
A: Getting everyone on the same page can be tough. We suggest scheduling a presentation by one of our speakers at an upcoming meeting – virtually on zoom or in person once those meetings are possible again. Recycling is less expensive than trash so it behooves everyone to recycle as much as possible to keep costs down. Framing it economically might help encourage people to recycle more thoughtfully.
Q: Is there a reason a more uniform plastic is not used for everything?
A: Plastic is used for so many different types of items that uniformity would be very difficult. Some items need to be flexible (i.e. water bottles) while others need to be rigid to hold heavy items (like food trays). The manufacturers don’t have any incentive to move toward uniformity since they are currently not responsible for disposal.
Q: Why is there a disconnect with regulation and downstream waste management? Why are restaurants required to use biodegradable material if we have no proper way to dispose of them?
A: Pressure should be applied to companies to accept responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products. We’re not aware that restaurants are required to use biodegradable/compostable products unless in a jurisdiction (i.e. Berkeley) with residential food scrap collection.
Q: There are restaurants in Carpinteria stating they will lose their license if we use our own containers or bags. What can the consumer do about this?
A: You can let them know that there are no such regulations. As of January 1, 2020, new law AB619 makes it easier for people to bring their own containers to restaurants. However, during COVID-19, it is understandable that restaurants are being cautious. One suggestion is to ask them to plate your food (on a real plate) and transfer it to your reusable container yourself. You can also ask the cashier at the grocery store to put your items back in the cart for you to bag outside the store. When I see that restaurants that I like or stores where I shop are returning to reusable food ware and allowing reusable bags again, I make sure to give them positive feedback.
Q: Why don’t we make it illegal to produce packaging that is not recyclable?
A: That is the goal of the bills we outlined in the webinar – it will take a lot of political will for that to happen, but your action can help:
- Support the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 – sign here.
- Help ensure the groundbreaking California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act has enough signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot – sign here.
- Demand that Amazon stop polluting our planet with single use plastic pollution – sign here – and opt to bundle all your purchases to arrive together to reduce the footprint of your transactions.
Q: Why do we not have a national recycling law in the United States?
A: The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 addresses that issue at the federal level. Trash collection has historically been up to local jurisdictions since geographical regions (desert/forest) influence waste management decisions.
Q: Do you know of any national referendum to reduce the types of plastics used by U.S. companies and require recyclable plastic?
A: Yes, it’s the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 that we talked about briefly in the webinar. It will take a lot of political will for it to pass.
Q: Changing utensils to biodegradables makes no sense if we don’t have a proper way to dispose of them. The lack of recycling due to a lack of secondary market isn’t an excuse to not recycle. Companies like Terracyle have proven this. Why don’t we partner with them to recycle all our plastics? How do we address that problem at the small local level?
A: Action that we take locally can translate into greater action. We saw that with 200 bag regulations that led to statewide action on bags. We are using so much plastic that it’s too much for one company to manage. Companies like Terracycle are providing a niche service that requires people to mail them their items so there is added energy needed to transport our recyclables to them. As it is, we do not reclaim the energy used to create these items in the recycling process, even if it’s local. And, as we mentioned in the webinar, extracting the oil and manufacturing it into plastic also takes a lot of energy and often takes place in underserved communities where the pollution is making people sick.
Q: News reports say overseas (China, SE Asia) are no longer taking our recyclables. Now what?
A: We need to rely more on reusable items. China’s acceptance of our plastic waste was mostly a mirage, since they either burned, landfilled or allowed a great deal of it to get into the environment.
Q: Does CEC foresee that one day we might eliminate the need for landfills?
A: Landfills are unlikely to be eliminated but they can certainly be improved. The new ReSource Center scheduled to open at our landfill early next year is supposed to pull recyclables and organics from trash, increasing our recycling rate and turning the organic material into energy that will power several thousand homes.
COVID-19 and Plastic
Q: Has COVID-19 led to people using more single use plastics? Is there any way around this now, and in the future?
A: COVID has led to increased use of single use plastics. You can read more about this issue in our blog. We encourage you to ask your local grocery store to start accepting reusable bags again if they are not already – and request reusables whenever you can.
Q: Are grocery stores allowing customers to bring in reusable bags during COVID-19?
A: Some are and some are not. Tri-County Produce has allowed reusable bags during the pandemic and others are starting to allow them again. Ask your local grocer and encourage them to consider allowing reusable bags again. If your store still does not allow them, ask the cashier to place your items back in your cart and bag them outside of the store in your own bags.
Q: What is the best practice (amount of use, cleaning, disinfecting, etc) for using reusables with COVID?
A: There is very little evidence of any surface transmission of COVID-19 – read more about why reusables are considered safe in this article.
Q: It would be helpful if county Public Health would issue a statement regarding reusable bags and regular plates/utensils at restaurants. Many local businesses are following their guidelines.
A: That’s a great suggestion. We will pass that on to our contacts at county health. You are welcome to reach out as well – the more they hear from the public, the greater likelihood that they will take action. Read more about the letter signed by over 100 public health professionals about the safety of reusables.
Q: We typically eat in at restaurants to avoid to go containers. During COVID-19, everything is now served in to go containers whether you eat in or take out. Is this a city mandate – or can we put pressure on restaurants to switch back to reusable plates, cups and utensils?
A: Using to go containers is not a city mandate and providing feedback to places that you patronize is really important. You can also read or reference this letter signed by over 100 county health professionals emphasizing that reusables are as safe as disposables.
Q: How is CEC working with local and national government officials to help us reduce plastic consumption? How do you maintain a positive attitude? What about greater polluting countries around the world?
A: We are pushing for state bills to reduce plastic production and consumption – and you can too by contacting Assemblymember Limón and Senator Jackson. We have advocated for seven regional bills to limit distribution of single use plastic items. These successes help keep us going even when it seems like an unsolvable problem. Sharing the burden helps too, as does connecting with so many concerned people like we did during the webinar. You can read more about CEC’s #ditchplastic work – and how you can get involved – on our website. Thanks for your support!
Q: Can compostable plastics be recycled?
A: Every jurisdiction that has a compost program has different rules. The city and county of Santa Barbara does not accept compostable plastic in their compost; if it looks and feels like plastic, Santa Barbara treats it like plastic and it must go in the trash.
Q: What about biodegradable packing peanuts?
A: Great question! They are water soluble and made from natural, nontoxic sources, such as wheat and corn starch. Toss them in your kitchen sink and run water over them until they dissolve. You can also add them to your compost where they will break down quickly.
Q: Is Santa Barbara developing a food scrap program?
A: The food scraps “or composting” program is currently only available to commercial customers. The ReSource Center will have an anaerobic digester to help process excess organics and keep them from entering the landfill. Both MarBorg and the County do sell backyard compost bins if you are interested in having one for your personal use.