Have you ever paused on the way to dispose of something, whether it is plastic packaging, a lightbulb or a box and wondered whether it should go in the garbage or recycling? Have you then hoped it could be re-cycled, so popped it in your recycling container, thinking that if it is not recyclable the facility will be able to correct the mistake, or else have access to somewhere that can recycle it? This is called wish-cycling and it is normally done with the best of intentions, with a ‘better safe than sorry’ attitude as we hope to reach a greener world.
However, unfortunately, wish-cycling can be extremely problematic for recycling facilities and may create more waste in the long run.
Green that life blog writes: ‘recycling as an effective waste management tool is facing significant challenges. We Americans generate a lot of waste. Not only is the U.S. one of the most wasteful countries in the world, we’re spewing out more trash than ever before — 262.4 million tons in 2015, an all-time high. Recycling is meant to be the eco-friendly solution to eradicating all this trash. Unfortunately, it can’t accommodate the sheer amount of waste, so only a fraction actually gets recycled.’
When an incorrect item is added to the recycling process, a batch of recyclables can be contaminated, which may mean that the whole batch gets rejected and goes to landfill instead, generating more waste than placing that one item in the regular garbage in the first place. If this keeps happening, re-cycling systems have the potential to become completely unsustainable and even abandoned by municipalities.
Recycle Coach blog writes: ‘consider this: your recyclables are all processed at a local materials recovery facility (MRF, pronounced murf). No two MRFs are the same. Each is outfitted with unique equipment and capabilities. That’s why communities have such varied waste management programs. Introducing items that can’t be processed by your MRF can damage it, which means nothing gets recycled until the equipment’s up and running again. This is very expensive. It also happens much too frequently. When recycling becomes uneconomical, some local governments might think twice about doing it. By recycling right, we’re doing our part to keep it affordable.’
Wish-cycling is a very easy and common mistake to make, as re-cycling abilities vary from location to location. So, if you are looking to be as effective as possible when it comes to recycling, look into what your local recycling collectors can take by consulting your local waste authorities. Unfortunately, not everything that says it is re-cyclable can be recycled in your area.
If you are still keen to recycle particular items that your local waste collectors are not able to take, it may also be possible to take these extra items to various specialized recycling points. For example, textiles cannot usually go into your recycling container, but there may be organizations looking to collect old textiles for recycling purposes. Have a look in your local area to see what is available to you.
Further, Green that Life blog points out that: ‘The best way to avoid wish-cycling is to reduce the amount of waste you generate in the first place. The biggest culprit in our waste crisis is source production, so consider rethinking your purchasing habits and in particular, reduce your reliance on single-use convenience products.’
Make sure you also get into habits of washing those items that can be recycling such as plastic food containers. Leaving things unclean can also have a detrimental effect on the recycling process as well. It is not necessary to completely wash these items with soap but do remove debris with a thorough rinse. Any items that are greasy, oily or contaminated with food (such as greaseproof paper) cannot be recycled. Remove the soiled portion or place all of the items in the bin. You also need to keep the items dry, soggy items cannot be recycled.
Finally, keep the items loose in the trash can, rather than placing them in a plastic garbage bag.
Another easy mistake to make is believing that all plastics and cardboard can be recycled. There are many different types of plastic and only a limited amount can easily be recycled – as mentioned above there may be separate collection points for specific items in your local area. So familiarise yourself with the types of plastics and items that can go in your recycling bin. Pizza boxes for example, are normally a no-no. Further – items that are marked as compostable are not recyclable and only be disposed of in compost facilities.
Items that contain mixed materials may not be able to be recycled either – so be sure to check. Overall, once you have checked your local rules, if in doubt, it may be better to throw the questionable item in the trash rather than risk contaminating more recyclables.