So you’re feeling pretty good about all that plastic, metal and cardboard you just carefully sorted and tossed into the correct trailers located behind the Patagonia post office. After all, you take pride in keeping a close watch on your household’s waste stream. But hold on…things aren’t always what they seem… and that, unfortunately, is the case at the Patagonia recycling station.

The town is fortunate indeed to have such a convenient location for recycling many types of discarded household materials that would otherwise be destined for the landfill or thoughtlessly tossed out to litter our beautiful landscape. However, this so-called recycling service falls far short of its intended goal.

According to, John Hays, who oversees Santa Cruz County’s recycling program, the county landfill staff inspect the trailer’s contents to determine which loads are clean enough to sell (mainly cardboard and metals), which go to operations that charge to process them (plastics and paper) and which just go into the landfill. Currently, virtually all of the glass ends up in the landfill because there is no market for it and much of the plastic and metal meets the same fate simply because the trailer loads contain too much trash. As a result, much of our collective recycling effort is in vain. While recycling has always been economically challenging, recently the situation has worsened throughout the industry, Hays explained, since China instituted its Green Sword Initiative to force its suppliers of recyclable materials to reduce the percentage of trash mixed in with the recyclables.

It is clear then that if we want to be assured that our recycling efforts actually accomplish their purpose, it is critical that we follow the rules for properly sorting and preparing the items we place in the recycling bins. When we abuse the service, not only does it negate the benefits of recycling, it wastes our tax dollars, it puts the workers at greater risk of injury and we risk losing the service altogether.

Here are the most important ways users can help make the operation safe and cost-effective and ensure its continued operation in Patagonia:

Do not use the facility as a dump for ordinary household or commercial trash.

Flatten corrugated cardboard so the trailer doesn’t need to be emptied as often and to reduce the risk of injury for workers operating the compactor at the landfill.

Make sure your recyclables are reasonably clean, as food waste increases the chance buyers will reject the recyclables outright or that the county will pay a higher price to have them processed ($54 for contaminated loads vs. $23 for clean)

Recycle plastic bags at grocery stores. When placed in the municipal recycling stream with the other recyclables, they often jam the machines used in processing the other plastics.

Remove caps from plastic bottles and jars to avoid injury to workers. Note: there is no clear guidance for whether to discard plastic bottle caps or recycle them along with the bottles. An alternative is to repurpose them or search online for an operation that accepts them.

By Bob Brandt

Published in PRT November 2018 Issue