SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The global market for recycled plastic has undergone a dramatic change in the last 12 months. Bay Area recycling companies have a dilemma: they can no longer just ship plastic to China.

“China, which formally was the largest buyer for recycled plastics, is not buying anymore,” said Robert Reed, spokesman for San Francisco waste management company Recology. “We are having to find new markets.”

So, the question is, where is all that stuff going now?

A front-loader moves a pile of trash at Recology waste management firm in San Francisco. (CBS)

CBS’s 60 Minutes just featured Recology in a story about plastics, and the growing, perpetual problem of plastics. Reed says they have found some new customers but there’s a catch. “We’re also having to send some of it to Southeast Asia, to Indonesia, so it’s traveling further and that is more transportation cost,” he said.

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One of the most durable materials ever made, plastic lasts years before breaking down. Now more plastic is ending up in the world’s oceans.

Reed says, “The real solution is not to create so many plastics to begin with.”

The other part of the solution: technology to help meet the new standards of cleaner recycled plastics. Recology has a new, high-speed process involving state-of-the-art optical sorters and high-speed computers to recognize plastics from other stuff. “We are the first company in North America to order these machines,” said Reed.

Still in the testing phase, the goal is to get these $14 million dollar machines on line before Christmas.

Recology says using metal water bottles, choosing products with glass packaging at the store, and just refusing to accept plastic food containers is a step in the right direction to a cleaner planet.