By Kiet Do

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.”

Comments (36)
  1. Do what fascist liberal cities always do. Hire inspectors to dig through people’s recycling containers. Fine them for including wrong items.

  2. Ford Hanson says:

    Sure lady, just don’t buy stuff! Moron.

  3. ok so pack up the stuff you don’t want or need and go online and get a FREE shipping label for those AMAZON boxes and ship the stuff to Goodwill. VOILA!
    ps, I wonder how much junk I’ve saved from going into the atmosphere by not driving around all day for days shopping for Christmas presents?

  4. Make Amazon take their boxes back. Let them be responsible.

  5. Damn – Another crisis caused by capitalism.

  6. CC Staff says:

    The companies that sell our recycled trash to China will pay what they need to pay to stay under the 1% contaminant limit, then pass the cost onto the consumer via higher trash collection bills.

  7. Paul Roberts says:

    If you want us to recycle then make it easy for us or we will not do it. All garage should go though a recycling separator that is automated. After all, we have a push for cars and trucks to drive themselves? Robots that replace humans from everything from mowing the yard to replacing the wife for sex. Auto face recognition to capture criminals? Data mining to find what people watch and do online? Heck, this should be easy!

    1. Mike Saboro says:

      Single stream recycling technology, where is it? With all the advances in recycling over the last five years, why is this not being put in place yet? If one wants to make an immediate impact on the environment and protect our resources, a single stream recycling system should be mandated in every county in the country. Less going into landfills and more being reclaimed and recycled. No more depending on residents to do it right, just not going to happen. Handle it at the landfill as it comes off the trucks.

  8. If China is having a problem with recycling packaging, then they should make their packaging so that it is easily recyclable.

  9. This is a BS article, I work for a packaging company that recycles paper and boxes. This is a non reporter looking for a story.

    1. Amy Parr says:

      Don’t confuse people with facts! (And I believe you’re right. The only thing I ever see in my local small town’s recycling center’s cardboard bin is…cardboard.)

  10. Wow, people! Just separate your recycling. Its really not that hard. WTH? Lazy much?

    1. Thumbs up, the best reply here! You nailed it.

  11. Listen, See?BS! – if I wanted to play with my garbage, I’d live in Calcutta.
    Deal with it.

  12. David Robson says:

    Here in SE NM we send our trash to where it belongs – the landfill. And our waste management costs are less than 1/3 what they are on the West coast. Not that we are against recycling, but it would have to make economic sense. If the Chinese want our old cardboard boxes they can come on over and get ’em.

  13. We could switch to Walmart packaging. The last two packages I got from Walmart were already partially decomposed.

  14. Why the heck is it our job to separate the recyclables? We already recycle the “recyclables” from the other garbage. And Jenny Loft is a moron: who wants an “experience”? Sheesh.

  15. Tom Miller says:

    san francisco needs to be recycled, thats for sure. the city reeks of urine and feces.

  16. Do what I do… throw it all in the trash.

    Problem solved.

    1. Dennis Floyd says:

      See simple, problem solved 🙂

  17. Robert Cat says:

    This webpage has three videos all playing automatically at once. Good lord.

  18. Susan Vue says:

    As a monopoly Amazon & Jeff Bezos can do whatever Bezos wants. The important thing is for Mr. Bezos’s wealth to increase to $200Billion and his warehouse help below $8.00/hour.

  19. a stray piece of plastic mixed in with a cardboard for example — that can ruin an entire batch.”

    Then burn it, who cares? The trees are already dead.

  20. Jerome Barry says:

    It’s clearly time for San Francisco’s KCBS to tell us how to make tiny homes from cardboard boxes. What’s the delay?

  21. Dana Kelly says:

    If you are profiting from the sale of cardboard to China, your cleaning costs should be included in the price you sell it for. With the new tax law for 2018, where you will be taxed at 21%, why not open a plant here in the USA to recycle your cardboard???…We need jobs, and you need to solve your garbage problem.

  22. flakyskin says:

    sounds like a great new invention waiting to happen in America to take back from China, a machine that can determine the materials and then separate it all based on what it is.

    Those who can find a problem and then create an invention / product to solve the problem will typically make lots of money.