Watch CBS News

Holiday Packages Are Causing An Environmental And Recycling Nightmare

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- Online purchases are generating mountains of cardboard this holiday season and it's overwhelming recycling centers in the Bay Area and abroad.

The recycling industry is calling for change.

That Amazon box that you so proudly and faithfully recycle, well it turns out a lot of you are doing it wrong.

Here at Green Waste in San Jose, they process 2,000,000 pounds of recyclables every day, making them among the top five in the country.

Emily Finn works at Green Waste and says they see one mistake all the time: people tossing the entire shipping box intact with all the packaging material inside.

"So if we peek inside, we actually see that there's a lot of film plastic inside," Finn said. "So what we request folks do is actually remove and separate out the film plastic, separate materials out by material type."

Much of our recycled cardboard ends up in facilities in China.

The problem is that in recent years the U.S. has been sending recyclables contaminated with other materials -- a stray piece of plastic mixed in with a cardboard for example -- that can ruin an entire batch.

Starting January 1, 2018 China is cracking down. They will begin turning away shipments that have more than one percent contaminants.

San Jose State University's Bruce Olszewski said, "China wants our stuff, they're a huge market for us. They just like it to be a little bit cleaner."

Olszewski is one of the state's top academic experts on recycling. He says it's everyone's job to make sure we sort and prep our recycling the right way.

"There's no such thing as the recycling fairy," Olszewski said. "So there's actually real people that have to look at this material and separate it. And they're working on conveyor belts, so they have to work quick. So the easier we make it, the cleaner the loads, the more stuff that gets recycled, the better the markets are, the better it is for everyone and the environment."

For cardboard boxes, make sure they are empty and flat, with no ribbons or bows.

Green Waste prefers just loose items, but if you have to bag it, don't cinch the bag closed.

Jenny Loft with the City of San Jose's Environmental Services Department has an idea: don't buy stuff at all.

"We could also give them things like experiences," Loft said. "So for instance, if you have tickets to a show, or an event, or to go away somewhere or oon a trip, you're still giving them something special but you're not cluttering up your house with stuff, and you're not throwing away stuff."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.