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Recycling Industry Reeling From Tough New China Standards

(KPIX 5) -- A warning for consumers: if you're not careful, what you toss in the recycling bin could end up in a landfill instead. Recycling companies converged on Sacramento today to sound the alarm, calling it a crisis.

In San Jose, most recyclables end up at a material recovery facility (MRF) on Charles St. near the Highway 101/880 junction. At the MRF, an endless torrent of trash is sorted, cleaned and collated so it can be shipped to a recycler, usually in China.

And there is the problem. "The Chinese have developed increased standards for recycling, and the problem is many of our cities and counties and service providers just can't meet that standard," said Bruce Olszewski, Director of the Center for Development of Recycling at San Jose State University.

What that means is all this trash, which could be recycled, might end up instead a landfill.

If the paper or cardboard is contaminated with liquid or food waste, that's something we can't control and that makes those fiber products unmarketable," said Emily Finn, spokeswoman for recycling firm GreenWaste Recovery.

There's enough concern over new, stricter standards that leaders of the recycling industry went to the state Capitol to sound the alarm.

Finn noted there is a silver lining in that there's still a lot the public can do to insure their trash gets recycled.

"People need to make sure they're as dry as can be, that there's not liquid sealed in the container with the lid on," said Finn. "And food needs to scraped out. A peanut butter jar, for example, scrape the peanut butter out before you toss it into the recycling."

A few moments might mean the difference between getting recycled or sitting for lifetimes in a landfill.

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