Observations from our hometown municipal waste facility
Recently some members of Alter Eco’s team had the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes tour of our hometown municipal waste facility: San Francisco’s Recology. Waste is something we think about all the time here at Alter Eco as we consider the impact our business has on our precious planet. Our responsibility doesn’t end at the shelf, we are currently transitioning all of our packaging to be fully compostable, starting with our chocolate truffles. Getting it right means having a full understanding of the life of our packaging, all the way down to its final resting place.
When we began the tour, we were prepared to be impressed with how many tons San Francisco recycles of various commodities, how much is diverted to landfill, and (hopefully) to be able to see our city’s famous compost program in action. We walked away with much deeper impact.
Recology has a very impressive scope of items it will collect from its customers: from clothes to food waste to #1-#7 plastics. We were there to see what happened to packages like ours: flexible plastic (PE and soon to be compostable) as well as the truffle wrappers.
As we marched toward the sorters, we had to pass through canyons of bundled cardboard, office paper, plastic jugs, and plastic bottles. The canyons went on and on and on, far past the eye could reach. All of these canyons at 700 tons per day, are sent over to Asia to be recycled or downcycled into new products. That’s right. Your Amazon boxes, almond milk cartons, and laundry jugs go back across the ocean in container ships to be turned into products like carpet padding and insulation. There is no market here on the west coast for recycled corrugated or plastic. The feeling of being there was literally like being in a tomb of our own consumerism. Do we really need the convenience of Amazon, and their double packaging for one or two items? What can we do about that?
Back inside the sorting facility, we watched like giddy kids as all kinds of bottles and paper seemed to float on air – which they did as a part of the sorting process. The belts moved up, away from gravity, with the different density plastics falling into the right bins. It was all so efficient! When we moved our focus from watching the dancing paper we noticed the machines were becoming more and more covered in plastic: plastic bags, drycleaning bags, bread bags, pouches. The flexible plastic was slowly gumming up the gears making it difficult for the sorting machines to do their job. What was that plastic doing there?
Flexible plastic currently cannot be collected curbside. It is unable to be sorted as the rest of our waste is so it becomes an enormous and expensive nuisance. Recology has a shift dedicated to removing plastic from these machines. An entire shift! The proper place for bags is unfortunately landfill- the black bin.
We are so excited for the upcoming launch of our compostable pouches for quinoa this year. In an instant, millions of plastic pouches we sell our quinoa in will be removed from this wasteful waste stream to a more useful place: compost heaps which can be used by farmers. Stay tuned for more news about our transition to compostable pouches in the upcoming months.
P.S. Did you know? Milk and ice cream cartons go in the compost bin, not the recycling bin!
You can get more info on Recology at their website: http://www.recology.com/index.php/waste-zero