The Dirty Business of Recycling

Piles of recycled materials in bags

It’s a cruel irony that the process of recycling plastic, cardboard, metals, and other materials can be harmful to the environment.

Recycling facilities are often covered in contaminants—everything from fuel to solvents—and sometimes the recyclable materials themselves contain toxic metals or chemicals. When not handled and stored with care, these materials release pollution into the surrounding water, soil, and air.

When Baykeeper’s scientists first assessed Tri-CED in Union City, the facility’s practices were causing some of the worst industrial pollution in the Bay Area. Improperly stored recyclables at the site were contributing high levels of heavy metals and other contaminants into the surrounding community and environment, including a creek flowing into San Francisco Bay.

But unlike a lot of other corporate polluters we investigate, Tri-CED is a community-focused nonprofit that’s trying to do the right thing. So when we reached out to the company about their high pollution levels, they immediately started working with us on lasting solutions – without the need for Baykeeper’s lawyers to file a lawsuit. That’s really rare!

Just months after we contacted them, Tri-CED implemented protocols at their site to prevent pollution from getting into the creek and the wider environment. They also contributed funds to the Rose Foundation for Communities & the Environment to make up for their past pollution.

We will keep an eye out on this facility to be sure it keeps improving, and we hope other recycling facilities take note: The business of recycling can be clean and healthy for the Bay!

Photo: Nick Fewings / Unsplash