The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

November 6, 2007

Recycling Part 4: a visit to California Waste Solutions

Friday morning, I took another field trip, this time to California Waste Solutions, the company that picks up the recycling in my section of Oakland. Justin Johnson, CWS Commercial Accounts Manager, was my tour guide.

If you’ll recall, during my trip to the Davis Street Transfer Station, the Waste Management sorting machines were inoperable as a result of being jammed up by plastic sheeting and hoses. The CWS machines, on the other hand, were moving along just fine. Here’s a little video of one of the machines in operation:

Unlike Waste Management, which makes money not only from its recycling operation but also from its huge landfill, CWS’s business is 100% recycling. Therefore, it has more of a stake in recovering as much material from the waste stream as possible. Materials are sorted multiple times, taking them from this:

through the sorting process:

to the final baled materials ready for shipment:

Justin Johnson is proud of the recycling program that he runs for Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart bales its cardboard, plastic sheeting, and plastic hangers all together to deliver to CWS, where they are opened and sorted and re-baled for sale:

I don’t know if Wal-Mart reuses its plastic hangers before sending them to the recycling center. I certainly hope they do.

Most of the materials that come through CWS get shipped off to Asia. Very little of it is actually recycled in the United States. And, as I’ve reported before, the plastic that is recycled is not converted back into bottles or food containers but into other kinds of products… lawn furniture, for instance. So in order to have new containers for our food, manufacturers must continue to use virgin plastic.

Recycling is necessary. But it’s not the ultimate goal. Reducing our plastic consumption is the only real solution to this mess. Recycling is what we do with the plastic we end up with after we’ve reduced as much as we can. And what happens to it in Asia is the subject of another post for another day.

But continuing with Friday’s field trip, after touring the recycling center, I paid my very first visit to the Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste Facility. I brought a bag full of toxic cleaning products that I’ll no longer be using (opting instead for plain soap, vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice as my cleaners of choice), the broken CFL, some expired prescription drugs, and some containers of antibacterial hand soap. There are warnings out about antibacterial soaps causing harm to the bay. I don’t know what the Haz Waste guys will do with it, but it’s got to be better than flushing it down the sink.

And I returned the rest of those crazy plastic-encased CFLs to Costco for a full refund, even though I bought them a year ago! I did finally find a 5-pack of GE Energy Smart CFLs packaged in plastic-free cardboard at Ace Hardware. (I tried Whole Foods, by the way, per the suggestion of a commenter, but found only very expensive single-bulb packages containing a plastic window.)

It was a very productive day and use of a Flexcar. Afterward, I attended my Rethinking Plastics class and learned more facts about plastic that I’ll share later this week.

You might also enjoy...


Get 15% off at Guided!

I love Guided Products recycled binders & notebooks. Read my review.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
15 years ago

Damn, girl, you are HARD CORE. I’ll be planning a trip to Waste Management here in the OC soon…that’s where our recyclables go around here. I’ll report back with my soCal findings.

15 years ago

So I was reading an article in “ask umbra” from and I decided to follow your link because I heard the song “fake plastic trees” and remembered how good it was. I must say I am pleased with your focus on plastic reduction. Although there are so many different pros and cons to any conscious environmental decision, I am hoping this blog will aid me in reducing my plastic consumption without using an equally destructive alternative.
basically, keep on keeping on.
from seattle,
with green love and yellow journalism,

terrible person
15 years ago

It’s like the LOLCAT proud of its rhyming place to sit: I CAN HAZ MAT?

The Green Cat
15 years ago

Beth, thanks for this post. I love seeing the recycling center. And thanks also for reminding us that the plastic in our food containers and bottles is virgin plastic. We need to reduce our plastic consumption!

har mar
15 years ago

sounds like you’ve been busy busy!! but i think next time you’re doing field trips…you should either bring me along or come visit me at work!