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San Diego Lawmaker's Bill To Reclassify Exported Plastic Recycling Passed By Assembly

Plastic bottles pile up at the Miramar Recycling Center, Aug. 26, 2019.
Andrew Bowen
Plastic bottles pile up at the Miramar Recycling Center, Aug. 26, 2019.

A San Diego lawmaker's bill to ensure that only actually recycled plastics count toward the state's recycling goals passed the Assembly Wednesday and now heads to the governor's desk.

When Californians put plastics into a blue bin, most assume it's sent to a facility to be properly recycled — but that's not necessarily the case, according to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who said a large percentage of plastics from California are shipped overseas where they actually can end up burned, dumped or landfilled.

"We can't cut corners when it comes to tackling the plastic pollution crisis," Gonzalez said. "Sending our plastic waste to another country to become someone else's problem is dangerous and only causes more harm to the planet. AB 881 ensures we're being honest and transparent about our commitment to reduce plastic waste in California and meet our recycling goals."


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According to the language of the bill, California is often seen as a leader in recycling, but a loophole in state law allows exported plastics to count as recycled even when shipped to another country and when the evidence indicates recycling will not occur. The state has a yearly goal for 75% of waste to be diverted from landfills through source reduction, recycling and composting.

AB 881, if signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would make California's waste management practices more transparent by reclassifying the export of mixed plastic waste as disposal, while allowing only truly recyclable plastic to continue to count toward statewide recycling goals, according to Gonzalez.

Plastics exported to foreign countries often end up inadequately disposed of by incineration or dumping, leading to further harm of the environment and health of communities living nearby, she said. The legislator cited a 2019 study by environmental group GAIA that showed those countries and their people will likely shoulder the economic, social and environmental costs of the pollution, possibly for generations to come.