Sustaining Orange County: Recycling Tips and Facts to Help You Reduce Waste

flat lay with arranged different types of garbage isolated on grey

The realities of the global climate crisis can seem overwhelming. Every day, there’s new information about how the environment and human health are being threatened. And the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic has people wondering about possible parallels.

But there are plenty of Orange County residents fighting to make positive change. We highlight that great work here—from green businesses and university researchers to volunteer groups and civil servants. Passionate locals are working together to create a sustainable future; let them inspire you to take action in ways large and small.

Though each city handles recycling differently, most places in the county work with one of three major companies: Waste Management, Republic Services, and CR&R. Check with your hauler for details on what can and cannot be recycled. There are some things that are true across the board. Less than half of what is put in the recycling bin is actually recycled, for two main reasons. One, since China stopped importing our recycling last year, there is a lower demand for recycled plastics. Two, much of what folks toss into the recycling container is not on the list of approved items or is soiled. Recycle clean items only, never bag recyclables, and err on the side of caution—“When it doubt, throw it out.”

Mike Carey, sustainability coordinator at Orange Coast College Recycling Center, offers his advice.

We’re getting 150 gallons a month of used cooking oil. Most commonly it gets turned into pet food and cosmetics.

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade—it never goes away, it just breaks into smaller pieces. So if you think about it, every single piece of plastic that’s ever been made in the history of plastic is still on the planet.

Aluminum cans typically get made right back into aluminum cans; it’s the most infinitely recyclable item.

The vast majority of the containers (we get) are plastic bottles, which I hate to say because they’re the worst on the environment on a lot of different levels. It’s a petroleum-based product so they’re having to drill for oil to make plastic, and then they’re using fossil fuels to transport the product to market.

Costa Mesa has a population of (approximately) 110,000 people, but we’re getting in 180,000 beverage containers a day. It’s insane. And that’s not including the people that are like, ‘I don’t care, it’s too much of a pain to find a place’ and they’re just throwing them away.

The more separating you can do, the better, because that will ensure that it gets recycled. The big one is food—so we can recycle a peanut butter jar, but the less amount of food waste in there the better. Eliminate the contaminants and give it a fighting chance to get recycled.

Tip: You can safely dispose of cleaning and automotive products, paint, and electronic items at the county’s hazardous waste centers in Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Irvine, and San Juan Capistrano.

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