Do you take recycling seriously? Here's how Sacramento's waste rules are changing

You've eaten every spoonful from your yogurt container. You've popped every square on your bubble wrap. You've rinsed out every last speck of mustard from its bottle.

You've done your due diligence, but if you live in the city of Sacramento, you can't recycle any of that.

A pamphlet from the city's Recycling and Solid Waste division arrived on many Sacramentans' doorstops July 1, heralding updates to recycling rules in the city.

Perhaps most significant is the change in the policy for recycling plastic.

Almost all plastic items are labeled with a small number, between 1 and 7, housed inside a recycling-logo triangle.

Previously, all plastics items were deemed recyclable in Sacramento, whichever number they were labeled.

Now, only plastics with Codes 1-3 are allowed in the recycling bin, said Erin Treadwell, Community Oureach and Media Manager for the Solid Waste and Recycling Division.

Also outlawed are shredded paper (whether bound in bags or not) and plastic foam.

Sacramento County's Department of Waste Management and Recycling doesn't explicitly discriminate on the basis of Code Number and accepts most plastic bottles and containers in its curbside collection carts, said Brenda Bongiorno, communications and media officer for Sacramento County.

But the county's policies have also been changing. As of about a month ago, Bongiorno said, plastic bags are no longer accepted by the recycling processor facilities with which the county contracts. That means items in recycling and green waste carts should never be bagged.

Sacramento's sundry restrictions on recyclables are the result of a chain reaction stretching from China to Northern California, as The Sacramento Bee reported in March.

The Chinese government, which receives the bulk of West Coast recyclables, began an aggressive campaign to deter the import of contaminated materials and economically inefficient recyclables.

Waste Management, a national company that handles all of the city of Sacramento's recycling, responded by decreasing the types of materials it accepts.

Mixed plastics, which describes many items labeled with Codes 4-7, are harder to reuse, said Paul Rosynsky, a spokesperson for Waste Management, Northern California/Nevada. The same goes for shredded paper.

Treadwell emphasized that the newly restricted plastics tend to not be worth much in the recycling market, which makes them that much more unappealing.

The updated rules officially began on Jan. 1, Treadwell said, but the city and Waste Management went back and forth on the details of the new rules and agreed not to announce the changes until July.

Waste Management is currently implementing similar restrictions nationwide, Rosynsky said.

If residents are ever unsure of how an object should be disposed, Treadwell encourages them to use the city's Waste Wizard application on the Public Works website, which will be updated if new restrictions are imposed in the next 12 months, before the next informational pamphlet is mailed out.

County residents interested in learning more should visit SacGreenTeam.com and view Waste Management and Recycling's informational pamphlet, Bongiorno said.

Materials that fall under the following codes should now be trashed, not recycled, within city limits:

Plastic Code 4: Low-Density Polyethylene

Heavy plastics that are both durable and flexible, including films, fertilizer bags, bubble wrap, bendy bottles and thick shopping bags.

Plastic Code 5: Polypropylene

These plastics are strong, often translucent, and bear a waxy surface. They include most bottle tops, straws, ketchup and syrup bottles, potato chip bags, crates and hinged lunchboxes.

Plastic Code 6: Polystryene

Brittle, hard plastics — including yogurt containers, egg boxes, fast food trays, video cases, disposable cutlery, vending cups and coat hangers.

Plastic Code 7: Other (includes Polycarbonates and Polylactides)

Various plastics, including nylon and multimaterial mixed polymers.

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