Where Is Your City’s Recycling Going? The Answer May Disturb You.

Have you ever wondered where the city is taking all your recycled bottles and cans? Residents of Palo Alto dared to ask — and the answer was extremely troubling.

It turns out that 60% of the city’s recycled goods are shipped to other parts of the world, primarily Asia, for processing. Without strict environmental standards or transparency, it’s anyone’s guess whether the material is properly recycled when it gets there, or whether it ends up in places like the Mekong River.  

The companies that trade the city’s recyclables on world markets have declined city leaders’ requests to name their trading partners, NBC News reports. Palo Alto admits there’s no way to know whether the material is being recycled or wreaking environmental havoc overseas. 

Palo Alto’s situation probably isn’t unique. Experts who spoke to NBC News said many cities would likely encounter similar stonewalling if they tried to determine where their recyclables are going.

Perhaps more cities should try.