In reality, our dirty secret, that people either don't know or don't want to know but every policy maker is well aware of, is that garbage has been one of our biggest exports. We tax the public a lot to deal with recycling, and then pay companies a lot to handle recycling, and then those companies ship it to China as garbage.
Obviously California is not the only state doing it; lots of other states do it as well, but they aren't engaging in posturing about how much more they care about the environment than everyone else the way Californians and plenty of others do. Zhang Yin was extolled in the New York Times for being 'the Queen of Trash' who got rich recycling. Except only a fraction of that wealth was recycling, the rest was just being paid to take in trash, much of it toxic.
Here's a chart - even a few years ago it was startling, though it didn't register at all with the public. What is barely a blip? Anything that can actually be recycled.
Link: Business Insider.
It was never a secret that China wasn't really recycling that garbage, it was just sitting in landfills that 'recycling' companies owned. But by pretending we believed our overstuffed recycling bins were going to a better place, we got to assuage a little liberal guilt about producing so much garbage. Eventually, though, it got to be too much even for China. In February, they implemented a 'green fence' and declared they did not want to be a dump for the West any more. They may convince the UN they are an 'emerging' economy during climate negotiations, but they are clearly not - they can walk away from billions of US dollars.
Now, 'green' trash-exporting states are instead stuck with an embarrassing public relations problem, and the biggest worriers about that are the ones that claim to be the most environmentally-conscious, like Oregon and Washington state and, of course, California. We have long declared that we support recycling - we just never had to do it before, it was handed off to companies with a wink and shipped to China, who then found themselves with trash mountains so high that workers were buried alive, their bodies never to be recovered.
Recycling companies in the US and Europe say they support better environmental standards in China - and they probably do, but they also chose to ignore what many in government, the garbage industry and the concerned public did about garbage reality. Now, if Oregon and Washington and California asks voters for more money to create a viable domestic recycling industry, voters might finally ask why that hadn't been done all along, since that is what political leaders claimed mandatory government recycling was all about.