Where Does Trash Go?

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Children at a bottle recycling plantThe big holiday picnic is over. The table has been cleared, and uneaten food, paper napkins and cups, and plastic utensils have been tossed into the trash can. But where does that trash go?

Californians generate almost five pounds of trash per person per day! Household trash is picked up by local waste haulers, and then (in most cases) it makes its way to a “materials recovery facility” to be sorted. These facilities can sort trash in a variety of ways, either by hand or mechanically using a conveyer belt that sorts materials by weight. The facilities also sort out the reusable and recyclable materials, like old newspapers and cardboard boxes, glass jars, and plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers, that are accidentally put into the trash can rather than the curbside recycling bin.

In areas that do not have materials recovery facilities or a curbside recycling program, recyclables can be presorted at home and bagged separately so local garbage collectors can recycle as much as possible. Otherwise, valuable recyclable resources could end up in the landfill. Find beverage container recycling centers in communities throughout California where the items can be redeemed for California Refund Value (CRV) at a local buyback center.

All across the state, Californians are working to keep waste out of landfills. And California led the nation in 2013 by diverting an estimated 65 percent of its trash away from landfills. That means about 60 million tons of trash ended up being made into higher-value products, consuming fewer natural resources and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing process. In the years ahead, Californians will be asked to do even more to help meet a new statewide recycling goal: diverting 75 percent of our waste from landfills by 2020.