The Pandemic Is Making L.A.’s Recycling Problem Much, Much Worse
Story by Susan Carpenter, November 30, 2020
COVID-related home deliveries are adding mountains of waste to L.A.’s already-stressed recycling infrastructure
Lift the lid on most of L.A.’s blue bins and amid the plastic bottles and food containers you’ll now find disposable masks, gloves, delivery packaging, and other COVID-related trash. The pandemic is exacerbating a problem 30 years in the making, ever since the city first instituted its residential curbside recycling program: what to do with all that waste?
Of the 800 tons of recyclables L.A. Sanitation and Environment hauls away each day, about a quarter are incinerated or bulldozed into landfills. The good news: plastic bottles, detergent jugs, and clamshell food containers—plastics numbers 1 through 3—are still being recycled because there are buyers for them. But not so those staples of home deliveries—the plastic grocery bags, polystyrene containers, and the rest of the numbers 4 through 7 plastics.
It’s been almost three years since China put the kibosh on accepting recyclables, not just from Los Angeles but anywhere in the world. This year, L.A. is on track to spend $20 million to get rid of its recyclable waste, when six years ago it was making a $4 million profit, thanks largely to now-banned sales to China.
“We had grown very complacent with our reliance on the China market,” says Enrique Zaldivar, general manager of Sanitation and Environment, “to the point where we thought it would be there forever and didn’t develop any alternatives.”