This letter was prompted by a recent commentary from an LA times article that ran in your Friday, July 13th edition (“Environmentally minded Californians love to recycle – but it’s no longer doing any good” by George Skelton). While there are kernels of the truth in the article (such as China pulling back from buying contaminated recyclable materials from the rest of the world), the author makes unwarranted and sweeping statements that need to be addressed and corrected, particularly for the situation in here in the City of Napa and south Napa County.
First, the title of the commentary is extremely misleading. Recycling (and composting) is more important than ever. The City of Napa’s recycling rate (more technically known as “landfill diversion” rate) has improved from a 27% rate in 1995 to an estimated 69% rate in 2017 (measured the same way as 1995). That 42% improvement is very real and very important and represents thousands of tons of discarded materials that get recycled or composted and not wasted in a landfill (the City of Napa and south Napa County disposal currently go to Potrero Hills landfill outside of Suisun). While not as ideal as preventing waste in the first place or extending the life of products (commonly known as “reduce” and “reuse”), recycling and composting are the key to many important environmental benefits including significantly reduced pollution from virgin material extraction, less pollution from manufacturing, less water consumption, less use of limited fossil fuels, more jobs, less need for landfill capacity and dramatically less emission of greenhouse gases. For example, the energy saved from recycling just one aluminum can is enough to run a television for three hours. Each one of these advantages are important environmentally and economically, taken together recycling and composting really do matter both globally and locally.
Second, Napa’s recycling and composting facility is fulfilling its mission to recycle and compost even more as the City attempts to reach its goal of 75% recycling and composting by the year 2020. Nothing has changed for what is accepted and recycled through curbside blue cart recycling system since 2008 (when mixed rigid plastics like buckets and tubs were added). The City and Napa Recycling and Waste Services (NRWS) are putting in nearly $4 million dollars of improvements to the sorting line and technology for an upgraded, state-of-the-art facility to help reassure that cardboard, paper, metal, glass and plastic bottles are properly captured and recycled (all recyclable items currently accepted and captured from blue cart curbside program are recycled, not landfilled). An important part of Napa’s ability to continue to have a successful recycling program is for customers to pay attention and not contaminate fully recyclable items with non-recyclable items that can tangle in sorting equipment at Napa’s Recycling facility (items like garden hoses, cords and other flexible/stretchy “film” plastics like plastic bags, bubble wrap and shrink wrap). Please visit www.naparecycling.com for a complete list of items accepted in the single-stream recycling program.
The revenue from the sales of these recyclables is vital to keeping collection services rate stable (accounting for just over $6 million dollars last year which is between 18%-20% of the overall rate structure). Put another way, if Napa residents and businesses simply threw away all the recyclables that we now sell, everyone’s rates would increase by 18-20% … no one benefits from that approach.
Finally, residents also help keep costs and rates in check by taking full advantage of the curbside composting program. Since April of 2015, food scraps and soiled paper have been accepted for composting in addition to more traditional yard trimmings. Besides the environmental benefits of producing certified organic compost and keeping methane-producing organics out of landfills, composting is about half the processing cost of sending to landfill for disposal. Residents have been doing their part and when compared to landfill disposal tonnages before the acceptance of food scraps and soiled paper, residential trash tonnage headed for landfill disposal have been reduced by 13%. Good job Napa! Keep up the good work!
Kevin Miller, City of Napa Materials Diversion Administrator (Recycling Manager)
Tim Dewey-Mattia, Napa Recycling/Napa County Recycling & Waste Services, Public Education Manager