Where do your recyclables go? It's hard to say | February 4, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 4, 2022

Where do your recyclables go? It's hard to say

New report suggests city's haulers, brokers remain reluctant to disclose their clients

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto leaders often tout the city's strong record when it comes to preventing waste from going into landfills.

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Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by PCarter
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

PCarter is a registered user.

We had one of our annual cleanup days on Thursday. I put an obsolete printer on the sidewalk, assuming it would be recycled as e-waste. Instead, it was tossed into the back of the big landfill truck and crushed, along with all my other junk, my neighbor's mattresses, etc.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2022 at 11:09 am

Bystander is a registered user.

We have had the same experience as the above poster. When the system started and was well publicized, most of our items were taken the night before by interested parties who thought they could sell some of it. Our most recent pickup with a couple of nice items were just thrown into the back of a trash truck and squashed together.

When the clean up days were first touted we were told that the idea was others could reuse items and it was a way of recycling and reusing. Now the dates are top secret and it is quite apparent that they are just trash going to landfill.

On the point of tracking where recyclables end up, how much does this tracking cost? Whether or not they go to a suitable destination is a good aim, but it sounds an expensive aim to me. I would imagine that most of it ends up in a landfill somewhere in the world.

Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2022 at 12:35 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Last time representatives from the Utilities Department made a presentation to the council which included information about Palo Alto’s recycling program, staff were questioned about what happens to the recycled materials after it leaves Palo Alto. The phrase “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil” immediately sprang to mind.

Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2022 at 2:54 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

For three years I have been engaged about the fate of our waste, realizing that the good act of "recycling" is doing harm. I appreciate our city's engagement with this topic but have found that the "study the problem" approach has inadvertently become the long term solution - while we study the problem, the harm of these materials continues.

As this article was written, I penned in the morning a letter to our Human Relations Commission (HRC). On Monday, in a joint session with the City Council, I was inspired by the concern about harm of racism within our Asian community. I asked the HRC to extend their view toward the global human impact of Palo Alto actions, and in particular toward the harm on the Southeast Asian community as they receive the waste papers and plastics Palo Alto generates.

As the article informs, our mixed papers and cardboard, as well as much of our plastics, are shipped to Southeast Asia. These materials have a devastating impact on Asian communities as well as the environment. This impact includes children picking through waste, uncontrolled burning and uncontrolled disposal often controlled by local gangs. A horrific human impact we are complicit in.

The difference between local and global is that we do not see the harm we do globally, but that harm is still there, and perhaps more severe. I invited the HRC to embrace and opine on by City policies that would cause adverse human impact beyond our boundaries.

I asked the HRC and ultimately Council to intervene to immediately STOP the shipments of paper and plastic overseas, rather than study. We have studied for 3 years, but each week we continue the shipments we do harm. After we stop the shipments we can regress to local disposal of paper and plastic, and celebrate that the harmful human impact has ended. This action would also be symbolic to other cities who also participate in this practice. This action would drive domestic and environmentally sound markets to emerge.

Posted by d page
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2022 at 7:05 pm

d page is a registered user.

To learn more about plastic recycling check out this 9 minute video from climate town - both educational and humorous: Web Link

Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 28, 2022 at 8:03 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Here's a story by John Oliver on Plastic recycling. **Some adult language***

Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 28, 2022 at 8:04 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Web Link

Posted by Chris
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 29, 2022 at 10:36 am

Chris is a registered user.

There's no need to track. Their refusal is enough to know how bad the truth is.

You silicon valley people are funny. You claim to be environmentalists. Well I've got bad news for you. Your primitive technologies will never be enough to save you from the fact that there are TOO MANY PEOPLE on Earth

There's nowhere for your trash to go.

Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2022 at 11:51 am

Anne is a registered user.

So we should be mulching our paper and throwing our plastic into the landfill bin to make sure it doesn't go into the ocean?

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 29, 2022 at 4:43 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

This article on trash disposal stinks. For instance, just what foreign broker would pay for useless trash just to pay more to throw it into foreign landfills?

There is no discussion of cash flow here, and just in Watergate, following the cash is the key. How about just following the money trail as far as we can? For instance, does Palo Alto pay GreenWaste a lot of money to accept, sort, bail, and sell most of its trash? If so, what is the cash flow at GreenWaste for its secretive dealings with secretive foreign "brokers"? This is the key. Does GreenWaste SELL trash to its foreign brokers, or does GreenWaste PAY foreign brokers to haul off unprofitable trash that it can't dump for a profit in North America? SELL is the only logical business decision for GreenWaste (in my humble opinion, of course). Transportation to Asia is expensive, even in empty cargo containers going back to China. But wait!!! Those containers aren't going to China.

This trash thing does really stink. Follow the money!!!

Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring)
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2022 at 8:41 am

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

Excellent, if disturbing, article.

To echo Bystander, above: Our neighbors have sold their house and are moving out of area. They put quite a number of nice furniture pieces out on the curb for this latest cleanup day. I took some, others disappeared overnight, but a very nice small couch and other pieces were just tossed into the truck and crushed. It was awful to hear.

Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2022 at 7:40 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Focus on the art of the possible. Green Waste and waste commodity markets have become complicated. Seize this opportunity.

Economies of scale for hi quality, sorted trash can be initiated by cooperating "Green Waste" customers. If volume/quality of recycled trash bundles is improved, commodity markets will respond and optimize to a degree more acceptable to Palo Altans. We are a tiny village in context to world markets. However, a batch of cooperating "Greenwaste" customers can move world markets.

The only direct path forward is decisive intercity cooperation to create better supply/demand for higher volume of higher quality trash bundles. This tiny step forward is practical and powerful. Palo Alto voices could be heard around the world.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 31, 2022 at 5:41 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Neilson Although many are willing to use their time to sort their refuse in detail and clean/prep it for "higher quality trash bundles", I suspect most are not. As far as I can tell, what we are doing now is not significantly better for the environment than putting it all into a well-run modern landfill after removing the top recyclables like aluminum and glass. We would recover methane, plastics would not end up in the South China Sea, and rail transport to a landfill is quite energy-efficient.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2022 at 9:35 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

I strongly support the comments made by Bob Wenzlau above, for the reasons he states eloquently. I also support the solution proposed by Neilson Buchanan, for the reason he clearly states as well.

This rational solution will rely on our city government doing something it has utterly failed to do in the past (and present): cooperating with other cities and communities. I profoundly hope we can expect our elected leaders to use skills its members should have learned in nursery school (yet perhaps did not): sharing and playing well with others.

To those who say that recycling is "impossible" - -I wonder how such a definitive lack of belief (and imagine) could be held by any genuine resident of a place that we used to consider -- proudly -- to be the innovation capital of the world! It also is a strange belief to hold given the actual progress being made currently in this very field.

Around the world, country, and locally, companies are generating sorting technologies that enable reusable materials to be separated from non-recyclables in order to divert to facilities that specialize in specific resource renewal. This has been happening, for example, with plastic bottles for years, and is increasing in usage as clothing and gear manufacturers are recognizing the opportunity to lower their cost of goods, and accordingly increase their profitability, by utilizing ocean-bound (or ocean-rescued) plastics instead of petroleum-based materials like polyester as raw material for fabrics. Re-purposing discarded materials as manufacturing components is a win-win-win for businesses, consumers, and our planet.

Given all there is to gain financially from repurposing discarded materials, it is shocking to hear that here in Silicon Valley, our valuable metals, plastics, fabrics, and likely, compostables, are going overseas to create pollution for human beings and our shared natural environment instead.

Palo Alto - of all places - should be leading the way to better solutions.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2022 at 1:19 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

This article gives me even stronger motivation to minimize my family's garbage waste. The mantra is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Recycle is last because it is the last resort option when you have no other option.

One way to reduce packing waste is to shop at the Farmers Market for food. I have purchased washable net bags for produce, so I don't have to use plastic or compostable bags at the store. I wish the grocery stores would stop using so much plastic in the packaging of meat and poultry and other products.

I try to buy items that come in glass when I can, but it is getting harder and harder to find these. I try to buy things in bulk to minimize packaging waste. I try to cut up old cloths for cleaning rags in stead of disposable thins.

Honestly, it is hard not to avoid recycling some stuff. Yesterday, I bought a jar of mustard. There were only two brands on the shelf that were not packaged in plastic, and they were more expensive.

Posted by Chaz Miller
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2022 at 9:28 am

Chaz Miller is a registered user.

Since 2002, 15 California paper mills that use recycled paper as a raw material closed. Since 2017, more than 15 paper mills in the US have expanded their use of recycled paper. Three brand new mills have opened. None of these are in California. Perhaps California needs to clean up its age and become a destination for recycled paper.

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2022 at 11:22 am

William Hitchens is a registered user.

I have first hand experience (semiconductor research and manufacturing) that CA is a notoriously difficult State in which to open and operate industrial businesses, particularly those that affect the environment, like paper mills. CA also has chronic water shortages. Mills both use a LOT of water AND need waste stream remediation to clean that water before it is discharged. That drives up operating and environmental regulation compliance costs and saps productivity. Just read online that "The US benchmark for water use within pulp and paper mills is approximately 17,000 gallons/ton of paper". Not sure if that applies to recycled paper and cardboard or just wood pulp.

Posted by SJW
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 5, 2022 at 10:24 pm

SJW is a registered user.

Perhaps the honorable thing to do is to put plastics in the trash, thereby forcing people in this country to deal with the problem. Shipping it off to the ocean or Southeast Asia only increases the damage. It's time for government to get involved in a big way.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2022 at 3:11 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

I strongly agree with Neilson Buchanan’s post above! This is the time for and issue that the city of Palo Alto must engage with as many regional partner cities as possible to figure improvements to our recycling!
Cty officials CAN contact and engage with other city officials, especially GreenWaste contract customers.
Excellent article by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly.
This is the exact way our city officials can make a difference locally, regionally, nationally and in the world: not with endless hiring of consultants, virtue signaling blather and intangibles. Focus on meaningful topics, please. (I include Public Safety as a top one, also.)
THIS issue of authentic, effective and efficient recycling IS tangible to ALL of us!
I don’t think it’s impossible. Consumer Reports, etc. describe how packaging manufacturers must be closely engaged and rewarded when they improve use of revcled materials, for example. California certainly can throw its weight around on this!
And yes, I mean the caps.
Please share with a friend or neighbor.

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