Recycling and plastics was not always a hot topic in the news. For years, the people who followed the market-driven recycling stream were primarily managers of recycling programs, commodities brokers who worked in the recycling markets, waste haulers and anyone else with a financial stake in the game.

That changed a few years ago when news broke of the “green fence” that China had put in place, stalling the market for certain materials with increasingly stringent requirements related to what they would accept from countries around the world who had come to rely on the factories that bought our waste stream.

Up until the mid-2010s, most of what we tossed in our recycling bins went to China. We had (mostly unknowingly) become victims of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind way of thinking about our waste stream. Once it went into the recycling, most people automatically assumed that it was being recycled.

But recycling can be challenging. Certain materials can be reused an infinite amount of times, but that list is very short. Aluminum cans are about the only things we use in our daily lives that can be turned back into aluminum cans forever; most of what we recycle ends up getting downcycled, meaning turned into a lesser quality product. This is particularly true for plastics. Plastics are not all the same, which makes them more difficult to be broken down and turned back into a high-quality material. Added dyes also make that process harder, and often your plastic yogurt container might end up as some type of plastic wrap or plastic bag, collectively called film plastics, but not much else.

That leads us to today. Most people have by now heard about the closure of the RePlanet facility that was located behind the Casitas Pass shopping center. When the largest buy-back recycling company in the state shuts down, it makes headlines. The company faced financial struggles and was no longer able to turn a profit, and while they were the only buy-back center in Carpinteria, they were not the only one in the greater Santa Barbara-Ventura region. And local stores are actively working to address that problem

Recent headlines have had multiple people asking me if it is true that nothing is recyclable anymore. Our recycling industry is changing, but many items are still recyclable. Are some things a lot harder to recycle? Yes. And should we be careful about what we recycle? Definitely. Keeping the recycling stream free from contamination means that the items that can be recycled, will be.

It is important to remember that the items you recycle must be clean. This means nothing with food or grease on it and no film plastics or plastic bags. Recyclables should be kept loose; putting them in a bag slows down the recycling process. Polystyrene foam, commonly called Styrofoam, should never go in the blue bin. Recycling information can be found on the insert that comes with your waste bill, on the city of Carpinteria website, and at

Erin Maker is the environmental coordinator for the city of Carpinteria. She studied biology after discovering her love of nature and science while growing up in Vermont. Always interested in improving water quality and recycling, she currently oversees the city’s Watershed Management and Solid Waste Programs. For more information, contact Erin at, (805) 684-5405 x415.

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