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OM in the News: The Silicon Valley of Recycling

March 30, 2016
The facility sorts out a 30 foot hill of debris daily

The facility sorts out a 30 foot hill of debris daily

You won’t find San Francisco’s Pier 96 in any travel guidebook but it has become a must-see destination for visitors from Afghanistan to Vietnam. They’ve come to explore Recology — one of the world’s most advanced recycling plants, a deafening system of conveyor belts and sorters that, with the help of human hands, untangles a 30-foot hill of debris collected by trucks every day from across the city.

Foreign officials and others come here to pick up tips on how to handle their own mushrooming piles of garbage back home. As the world’s population grows, people are consuming more, creating more trash, and countries are looking for ways to deal with it that put less stress on the environment. Many are part of a growing movement sometimes called Zero Waste or the Circular Economy, writes The New York Times (March 29, 2016). It entails trying to eliminate tough-to-recycle items like flimsy plastic bags and also pioneering new ways to recycle or compost everything else. Despite strained recycling economics–caused by falling oil prices that has driven down the cost of new commodities, like plastic, and, in turn, the price of recycled materials sorted and sold by Recology–interest remains strong.

Today, San Francisco diverts 80% of waste away from landfills, putting it among the elite recycling cities. San Francisco also has a world-class reputation for its composting processes, which turns food waste into fine, coffee-like grounds that is sent to farms as fertilizer.

Although Supplement 5 focuses on corporate social responsibility, this article illustrates that sustainability is a government issue as well.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What is the most difficult part of the process for Recology?
  2. Explain the concept of the triple bottom line.
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