Aspirational recycling or wishcycling is the process of placing items into the recycling bin even when there’s little to no chance for them to be recycled. While there are companies that are continually working on improved sorting processes and markets for materials like red Solo cups and cold cups used by coffee shops, there are limits to what can be put in our blue rolling bins. Wishcycling contaminates the recycling stream, reducing the quality of the material and potentially reducing markets for it.
Instead of guessing or wishing on questionable items, visit RecycleOrNot.org. The website is a community resource created by Metro and local government partners with lists to make sure you’re recycling right in the greater Portland area. Images of items are useful in understanding what goes in the blue bin and what goes in the trash bin. And if an item isn’t listed, you can send in a photo to find out.
In addition to the curbside blue bins, you may have noticed small white boxes on porches in your neighborhood marked “Ridwell.” The company aims to make it simple to get rid of stuff that can’t go into the blue bin responsibly while keeping it out of the landfill. Pricing for the subscription service is based on your zip code. The more people in your area subscribe, the lower the cost per house per month.
The company provides bags to put hard-to-recycle items in and picks them up every two weeks. Batteries, light bulbs, thread and plastic film make up their four core categories and there are additional rotating categories announced the week prior to pick up. The rotating categories include items like holiday lights, electronics, cords and chargers.
Putting materials in a recycling bin that don’t belong there doesn’t help the environment, nor does it reduce waste. Instead, it’s just harder to recycle things that are supposed to be in there. In the end they will have to be disposed of by the recycler and in the meantime, may tangle up recycling machinery or result in a contaminated, lower quality product. One way to think of it comes from Ridwell’s VP of Operations, Kevin Kelly, “If you’re building a bridge out of steel, you want to get quality steel, not some steel, some popsicle sticks and some other stuff that your neighbors had lying around.”
To be a better recycler (and avoid becoming an inadvertent wishcycler), make sure paper recycling isn’t wet or dirty and remove beverage residue from glass and aluminum containers. It might seem like pizza boxes can be recycled, but the grease and food matter contaminates the fibers. Instead, put them in the green composting bin.
Finally, remember that there are also the two R’s: reduce and reuse. Avoid excessive packaging and single-use products whenever possible and reuse the items that do come into your household as much as possible.