Recycling is not the Answer, but…

…for now, recycling is a short-term answer as we cycle into the long-term solution of a sustainability plan. That is the purpose of this ongoing column, “Trash Talk,” that will appear in every issue with information and tips on how we can move towards a goal of Zero Waste. Do we want to continue turning the planet into a vast garbage heap? Can we, as consumers, give up some of our comforts and convenience and make the shift to clean up the mess we made, even if it’s just our little corner of it?

As Topanga has so often done in the past with emergency preparedness and poison-free roadsides, we can again become a model to others…starting here.

Our writer gathers non-recyclable plastic bags and film for a photo shoot after a trip to Costco. Photo by Flavia Potenza

“What about…?” has been the most frequent lead-in to questions about recycling ever since we published the article about Waste Management’s Material Recycling Facility (MRF) in Azusa. The response to it has been gratifying. In fact, one resident has laminated the article and posted it for her tenants.

You might try this: For one day, write down all the plastic you touch and let us know your number. We here at the Messenger Mountain News have become hyper-sensitive to the plastic in our lives. At the office, we don’t need to get out of our chairs (a mix of plastic, metal and fabric) to identify the plastic we use every day: computer, mouse, keyboard, surge protectors, Dry-Erase pens, whiteboard, cell phone, telephone. If I wander about, there is the refrigerator, the microwave, food containers, lamps, more chairs (plastic upholstery), air conditioner, the doggy gate…it’s endless. To our credit, we finally recycled and replaced piles of plasticware with stainless flatware, resolved to wash dishes instead and know enough to refuse any more plastic in our take-out orders.

The result is we’ve scrabbled about the internet looking for alternatives to some of those “What Abouts” and discovered things we never thought about before. We learned we can’t recycle everything through the MRF, which is limited in its ability to process anything except plastic (1-7) and glass bottles and containers; food and beverage cans and cartons; cardboard, paperboard, and certain grades of paper. That’s it.

The things we are thinking about now are those “What Abouts…?” that litter our roadways, contaminate our beaches, and leave consumers holding a plastic bag. Some things are mixed end-use products we use every day that end up in landfill, such as bio-plastics made of recycled plastic and plant-based materials used in bottles and food and drink containers.

“What About…?”
Here’s our starting list of questionable materials that we invite readers to consider. Some of them are targeted for feature articles in upcoming issues. Let us know your list and, better yet, if you’ve found a way to recycle them, found alternate (upcycling) uses, or how to live without single-use items.
• Because of the plastic insert in tissue boxes, the cardboard can’t be recycled
• Plastic berry baskets
• Tampon applicators and cigarette butts are common beach detritus
• Because of the cellophane in envelope windows, the rest of the envelope can’t be recycled
• Balloons, their curly ribbons, and plastic bags have impacted wildlife.
• Wrapping paper & ribbons
• Plastic wrap bags for veggies (not in 1-7 plastics category)
• Coffee can lids
• Bio-plastic and compostable food and drink containers
• Plastic pony-packs for plants
• Used toothbrushes
• Double wrapping and packaging, air pillows, peanuts, and other packing materials in deliveries ordered online.

Meanwhile, we reiterate some of the resources published in the first article plus a couple of new ones.
Give-Back Boxes— Gives each and every cardboard box a second life to help people in need. Reuse online shipping boxes that you received, or any other cardboard box to donate unwanted household items to charities listed. Print the label, fill up the box and drop it off at the post office.; (310) 954-2003; 5419 Hollywood Blvd., Suite C116, Los Angeles, CA, 90027.
Gimme 5 Program—recycles used toothbrushes and #5 plastic containers such as yogurt cups, hummus tubs, etc. to find retail locations or to mail.
• Plastic film does not go in the recycling bin—Recycle only clean, dry plastic bags and film at your local supermarket. For a list of supermarkets that recycle:
• Styrofoam cups and containers—Our local hauler does not recycle styrofoam so we suggest not using it at all. is a Canadian company working on a process for recycling styrofoam into other light weight products. Call 587 890-1140. They are currently updating their website, so we’ll be keeping an eye on them.
• Shredding—Look for the Topanga Community Center’s shredding fundraisers that will make sure your shredding gets repurposed to a paper mill and comes back as a paper bag instead of going into land fill. ( and
• Recycle by Mail—Recycle bulbs, batteries and electronics responsibly from home.
• Food Waste—Compost everything (no meat).
• E-waste—Technotrash is a waste stream that includes all the spent supplies and obsolete accessories associated with your computer., (800) 305-DISK, (425) 392-8700.
• Local e-waste disposal: San Fernando Valley Dump, 6 a.m.-12 midnight, seven days a week. Check first, Policies change.
• NO Needles—Keep medical waste out of recycling. Place in safe disposal containers like Waste Management’s MedWaste Tracker® box.
• Construction Waste—For home improvement projects, WM’s Bagster holds 3,300 lbs. of debris or waste. Average cost is $140 per bag but varies by area.


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

  1. I was delighted to discover that Sprouts (at least at TCB & Ventura) recycles plastic film & bags, since all the nearby Ralph’s have stopped doing so.

    I saw that didn’t list Sprouts, so I sent them this info.

    Thank you for these great articles!

    I was inspired to start recycling by the first Earth Day in 1970 when I was in 9th grade. It’s so much easier now!

  2. Thank you for the Trash Talk column. I live in the Fernwood area of Topanga, and maintain a large free online user group on sustainable living. We are hosted by the LibraryThing website, the internet’s largest site for book talk that is not owned by Amazon. Our group is called Sustainability, and we list recommended books, other resources, related suggestions from the Library of Congress, recycling, renewable energy, transition communities and the like. Since the genre of sustainability is so diverse, many people have found our user group an efficient way to keep up with these topics. In our recent discussions on plastic, we include a link from on ways to dissolve plastics, for example. Link:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.