Editorial: Port pollution is a crisis. It’s going to take more than a $20 container fee to fix it.
It may seem like a simple, rational question. After all, is there any good reason to build a container terminal in San Francisco Bay, especially one that, like the Ports of Longview, is not going to have to abide by federal standards? In Washington, the ports charge fees for every vehicle that moves through. The fees and the congestion that come with them are the equivalent of $25 per ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
Yet the solution to Port San Francisco’s pollution problem has been the same as the solution to so many of the environmental problems we see around us today: build in an intelligent system to recycle its waste.
There is a system to recycle waste that works. It is a circular economy and it is already working now, using more than 80 percent of what has been added to the waste stream since 1970. Recycling and reuse, whether in the home or in an industrial process, is more efficient than disposable products.
It is also far superior to what is on offer in the ports. The ports’ own recycling systems are not designed to handle liquid waste, as they would have to be if they were to work with a giant cargo ship. Most of the recycling the ports can handle is paper: paper towels, paper bags, boxes of cereal, newspaper, magazines. But the ports do not recycle plastics, glass, aluminum, or electronics. They must send those products overseas.
In 2014 it took $300 million to get rid of all the plastic from a million-and-a-half recycled plastic bottles that were thrown into the ocean or incinerated. It took $4 million to incinerate 10 million paper bags a year. It took $1.5 million to get rid of the more than 300 million pounds of paper the ports don’t recycle.
In other words, the ports’ recycling system is not as efficient as it could be. It is slow, it has low output, and it requires a significant amount of energy to use the raw materials in the process to make new materials.
The ports’ recycling plants are not capable of recycling plastic materials like Styrofoam. They are not designed to carry water and solvents,