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Recycling 411, Part One

Getting rid of stuff is complicated. Napa Recycling is trying to make it easier, but after the earthquake in 2014, Napa Recycling public education manager Tim Dewey-Mattia realized just how much more education was needed in Napa County. The amount of non-recyclables put into blue bins after the earthquake made it impossible to sort and for the first week post-quake the city’s blue bin contents had to be added to the landfill.

Aside from the overwhelm caused by the earthquake, another reason people put stuff into recycling rather than in the trash is guilt. Tim calls this “wish-cycling.” As in, “I feel so guilty throwing this away, but it’s not in good enough shape to donate. Maybe it can be recycled.” Tim and I agree that the big battle is getting Americans to consume less—reduce–but until then, we can do better at recycling.

America is being forced to up its recycling game. Tim told me that China used to welcome almost 100% of our unsorted recycling. Now, because China is trying to clean up its environment and outsource manufacturing, they are accepting only the cleanest, pre-sorted recyclables, and very little of it.

California has extremely forward thinking laws, grants and programs that make our recycling services the best in the country. Did you know that the largest glass recycling plant in the U.S. is in Fairfield? Our own local recycling center is at the forefront of innovation. Napa Recycling is doing amazing things, such as purchasing Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) trucks that run on methane. The company even plans to produce its own methane from composted food.

Speaking of composting, Tim told me that composting our food, (even meat, which I didn’t realize is fine to compost), would be the biggest help to reduce landfill problems. When we throw food waste into the landfills, it decomposes in an environmentally unfriendly way, giving off methane (a problem if it isn’t captured and used). Who knew? I always thought throwing my food into the trash would help make the landfill more organic or something. Apparently no, it does not.

Instead, Napa Recycling allows their customers to put food waste into the yard waste bin which will go to their facility on Levitin Way to become gorgeous, nutrient rich compost. At this time, UpValley Disposal does not have a permit to allow their residential customers to do this, but they should have one soon. To pick up a small container to collect food waste in the kitchen that you can later dump into your yard waste bin, stop by the Napa Recycling Lincoln Avenue office across from Walmart.

Broken dishes and crystal were the items most often put into recycling after the earthquake; they cannot be recycled. Ceramics like china dishes are not glass; they don’t melt. Particles of ceramic getting into a glass recycle system could cause defects in the new bottles and items being made. Also, terra cotta garden pots and bricks are neither recyclable nor considered yard waste. I know it seems as if they could be ground down to become soil-like, but that kind of grinding is not part of the composting process.

There is a difference between reusable and recyclable, at least in the traditional “blue bin” recycling stream we have now. Bricks can be reused, but not recycled. Clothing can be reused or repurposed, but not recycled.

Napa Recycling offers and awesome service to their customers as part of its Recycle More program. If you call or e-mail ahead, they will allow you to put out your e-waste (anything with a plug, not just computers), a bag of used clothing, a can of batteries, and other items that don’t fit into a grey/blue/brown bin category and they will pick up many items free of charge (there is a charge for bulky items such as washing machines). Up-valley residents can take these items to Clover Flat, where there is an easy drop off process to accept sharp items like needles, knives, razor blades, e-waste, and other items.

Napa, we can do better! Education is key and I’ve run out of room here, so look for more recycling information in this column two weeks from now. In the meantime, there is tons of information on the Napa Recycling website, naparecycling.com.