Tips from a pro: How you can live 'zero waste' in the Bay Area

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Saturday, December 8, 2018
How to live zero waste: Can you do it?
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Here are some tips from one of the biggest recycling gurus in the Bay Area on how you can cut down on waste, especially while shopping for groceries!

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As a part of Building a Better Bay Area, we're looking at the complex issue of recycling.

San Francisco hopes to reach zero waste by the year 2020, meaning nothing will go to the landfill and everything will be reused, recycled or composted. But how realistic is it?

San Francisco is already known as one of the greenest cities in the world, funneling a whopping 80% of waste into recycling instead of landfills.

Still, is it possible to follow in the footsteps of Kamitkatsu? Kamitkatsu is a tiny village in Southwestern Japan where they've been zero waste since 2003.

ABC7's Dion Lim followed along as one of the greenest men in the Bay Area, Robert Reed of Recology, did his grocery shopping. Reed insists zero waste by 2020 is an attainable goal.

Reed is a total recycling expert, and produces less than two handfuls of trash at his home. He doesn't use toothpaste tubes since they're made with many different materials which render them un-recyclable.

Reed says it all starts with awareness and making the right choices, such as which bag is better? A compostable liner bag, or a brown paper one?

RELATED: Got recycling, composting, trash questions? We have answers

Reed picks up the paper bag and says, "This is craft paper, which is brown. You can recycle or compost it. It's way better than a plastic bag."

He says a non-compostable bag's thin film-like plastic is the worst, and can't be recycled. He says this is a major issue with the cheese department in our grocery stores.

"Years ago all of it used to be waxed paper which is more environmental packaging," he says of the cheese wrappings. "You want to avid the softer, shrink-wrapped type plastics."

Reed uses a glass container, which he pulled from his reusable canvas shopping bag. He used this container to ask for a small block of fresh cheese from the store.

So what if your favorite cheese doesn't come in a big block, but only prepacked?

"If you have an option, this is better because it's the hard, stiff plastic and we can recycle that," Reed explains.

RELATED: California faces recycling crisis after China tightens rules

Reed shared with ABC7 News an interesting fact about buying product in glass versus plastic, one that helps our local economy.

"35:22 glass is recycled right here in the Bay Area. This glass will never leave the Bay Area," he said.

In contrast, many plastics get shipped overseas to be recycled. Recology's San Francisco facility along Pier 96 is packed to the brim with thousands of tons of product, ready to be shipped elsewhere.

"China was taking a lot of plastics, but they're not doing it anymore, so we have to send them further and further away. That adds to our carbon footprint," Reed said.

Glass is also a plus when it comes to beverages, like milk.

"These are gable-top milk cartons," he said. "These are paper board, but coated in plastic on the inside. If you have two materials it's hard to separate them."

RELATED: Behind the Scenes: How recycling in San Francisco works

But the beverage Robert takes most issue with is water. While plastic bottles are recyclable, most still get thrown away.

"In China they recycle 30% of plastic bottles, in Europe 20% and in the US just 10% get recycled."

Making the switch to a reusable metal or glass bottle saves consumers $258 a year on buying disposable plastic bottles.

Another shocking number: 4.5. That's how many pounds of rubbish Americans create every single day. It's the highest of any country on the planet. Which is why Robert reuses his laundry detergent containers.

"I've have been using the same laundry detergent container for 20 years!"

While these may seem like extreme lengths to some, maybe it's more about being aware, and keeping yourself open to cutting down, if not going completely Zero Waste.