Wednesday, February 27, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (2/27/19): Where does your recycling go... really??

Where does your recycling go... really??  

A recent spate of stories about how lots of supposedly recycled stuff actually ends up in the trash (NPR storyNERC storyWired story) made me start wondering about where my trash and recycling really REALLY goes.  

In my city (Palo Alto, CA), all of my neighbors and I religiously separate our compost from our recyclables and trash.  On Thursday morning, we set out the big plastic containers for the trucks to come by... 

.... and pick up the contents--green is compost, black is trash, blue is recycling (single-stream)  ....  

.... and.... then... what happens? 

Our SearchResearch Challenge for this week is simple, but possibly tricky:  

Where does YOUR recycling go?  How much of the stuff you carefully put into the recycling bins actually makes it into a recycled product vs. into a landfill? 

From an SRS point of view, the question is how can you find out??  It's very possible that the trash/recycling organization has a page about what their practices are, but how do you fact-check what they say?  How do you really know??   

I'm curious about what happens where you live.  How much of our "recycling" actually ends up being recycled (as opposed to being put into a landfill or being burned)?  

Can you do the research for your town / city / village and let us know?  (And, as always, be sure to tell us HOW to figured this out!  Where you able to do it all via online research methods??)  

Search on!  


  1. Very interesting Challenge, Dr. Russell.

    Here if we want to recycle, people needs to make it manually. I think only in Mexico City garbage must be separated. In our country and cities we have people called "pepenadores" (waste scavenger) that goes to garbage cans outside houses and picks carton, plastic, glass, plastic bottles and resells. Sadly some people gets angry because "their privacy is invaded" or so they say. I don't know how they will know who throw something, but people sometimes is very weird. So many now are keeping trash with locks making more difficult pepenadores's job. Fortunately, also many of us, separates de items and to give to them.

    In case of Christmas's trees, recently government creating places to receive and recycle but not everyone is doing that because it is not easy and not close. Then, they prefer to pay money to garbage truck to take the trees. That is why I have since many years ago a natural tree even if it is not a Pine. And, others, are creating tree farms in which you can rent (if I remember correctly) a tree

    I'll SearchReSearch to try finding what happens in Mexico City and more parts of the world. It will be interesting to know what happens in other parts of the world.

  2. Yesterday, after reading the Challenge, found "by magic (The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon)"

    Bloomberg video:food-waste-is-big-business Mentions a source for data: ReFed. Very interesting.

    Also searched in Spanish [reciclaje de basura Mexico]

    El reciclaje, una oportunidad que México sigue desperdiciando Business worth 3,000 million usd. 70% ends in rivers, forests and other not good places. Mexico (2018), article says less than 300 landfills

    Recycling in Mexico City
    " La Ciudad de México ocupa el segundo lugar en la generación de residuos del país, con 12.920 toneladas diarias, de las cuales 7.752 toneladas son residuos inorgánicos (el 60%) y 5.168 toneladas son residuos orgánicos (el 40%)."

    The new rules (2017) Organic, inorganic recyclable, inorganic not recyclable and volumen/especial treatment.

    2015, only 33% recycled

    Data from Non gubernamental association

    An app to recycle

    1. Good Morning, this morning, I was reading my email with this one (the mentioned before phenomenon, again.) I wanted to share with you so, searched [the science behind recycling Smithsonian] results looks interesting. However, this one was the one in my email Garbology: The Science Behind Recycling
      Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - 7:00pm - 8:00pm

      Email adds "Can't make the lecture? Read Eric's own words about sustainability here: If someone can go to the conference, can you share with us what you listen and learn?

  3. This is all I've found out about Winnipeg so far - - but I'll keep looking... There are lots of news articles about how China's new foreign waste restrictions were putting pressure on Canada's recyclers (such as and, but I haven't found much that's more recent.

  4. Sorry, I should have added that Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba does publish 'recovery rates' for recyclables, but that has more to do with the amount of recyclable material being sold in Manitoba and later recycled (see p. 22 of this report -

  5. We compost everything can be composted. Branches and other yard stuff can dropped off at a special, well, drop-off place. At the dump drywall is separated, paint is too, as are building materials. Cardboard has a special bin, as does metal and glass. Beverage containers are well taken of in British Columbia with the highest recovery rate in North AMerica:

    Electronics go to a special recycle place, as do bottles of every description. Plastic white foam is separated from black. Flimsy is dropped off to our grocery store. But hmmm what do they do with it?

    I will try to get hold of someone in the waste stream for more details.

  6. Here is what happens in Canada with electronical stuff:

  7. And here is what happens to clothing:


    . . . March 1, 2019

    It’s no surprise then that recent news reports of US waste facilities burning plastics and sending recycled paper to landfills has sparked outrage. Thankfully, this should be a temporary problem.

    It used to be that the US sent most of its recycling overseas. In 2016, the country was exporting more than 40 per cent of its paper and a third of its plastics to China. But last year, China closed its doors to foreign waste, and the US had to scramble for new buyers. Despite stories of recycling woes, the US seems to be finding them. . .

  9. Houses are recycled here in a thriving industry held back only by local gov't red-tape rules: House Beautiful: Lifting, trucking and barging everything from bungalows to mansions

    Notice the bent bar on the front of the house in the first image, do you know why its there? I do.

    1. Is it to deflect low-hanging electrical wires?

    2. Yup. Congratulations Dan. j

    3. …is it a roof mounted automated glitter/confetti cannon/tube to celebrate mobile homes?
      makes the hard work of house transport a little more fun…
      in action… sorry, no sound

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. What do you do with your old Technology?

    For over 6 years My Tech Guys has been taking computers with life still left in them and re-purposing them for non-profits like YANA Comox Valley, Fertile Ground, Tigger Too Daycare, Proyecto Cocomango, and many other great organizations. My Tech Guys are happy to deal with your unneeded computers, printers, laptops, Phones etc through our Re-Purpose Program. We will review and determine which option will be the best for your donated equipment:

    Water bottles: Forbes says the world uses a million a minute but only 9% are recycled.