Why Do So Many People Wishcycle?
Working in a spring garden.

This week, I met up with Alli Lee of the Kokomo Post Kids to do a video on Wishcycling. We brought in pairs of her co-workers from the Post and asked them this question about items frequently put in our recycle bins and totes in Howard County. Are these recyclable? And from the answers, I learned two things: The staff of the Post are amazingly talented people who LOVE their jobs and recycling can be confusing!

What is Wishcycling?

Most people WANT to do the right thing, and most people know at least a little about the benefits that recycling has for our environment. The problem comes when someone doesn’t know the right things to recycle and so they start to wishcycle. But what is wishcycling? Wishcycling is simply placing materials in a recycling tote or bin with the HOPE that it will be recycled, when it cannot or is unlikely to be recycled. Why is that a problem? Those items can contaminate whole loads of recycling sending the good and the bad to a landfill. Or even worse, they can damage equipment and harm workers. How can we prevent that? By knowing what is and what isn’t recycled and why. There are two very distinct examples of items that are unrecyclable: The “Cannot” and “Unlikely To Be”. Let’s look at them individually.

The “Cannot”

This category of items includes things that simply can’t be recycled. This would include items such as diapers, pottery, ceramics, mirrors, window glass, aerosol cans, electronic items, toys that are made of several kinds of materials, chemicals, clothing……and the list goes on. While some of these items are accepted at the Recycling District, they are not technically “recycled”. We send them to several different contractors that dispose of the item the correct way. For example, electronics are shipped to a company in Indianapolis that will then disassemble them, recover metals and components that are recyclable or reusable, and dispose of the different parts that aren’t. The item as a whole isn’t recycled, and e-waste cannot go in a landfill and has to be dealt with differently than other items. Same with light bulbs, batteries, chemicals, and oil based paints and stains. We try to make sure that the manor in which they are disposed of doesn’t harm the environment.

The “Unlikely To Be”

This category is a little more fuzzy and a LOT more confusing. Items in this category are technically recyclable and often times have a recycling symbol. But these items are almost never accepted in municipal recycling bins or totes. Take Styrofoam for instance. It is technically recyclable, but is rarely recycled. Why? Because it’s bulky, it’s difficult, and it’s expensive to transport. Styrofoam is plastic made up of about 95% air, so it isn’t cost effective to store or ship. And it is porous, so is often times contaminated with food or liquid and very difficult to clean. Even if they accept other items with a recycling symbol and a plastic code of six, Styrofoam is usually excluded.

Another item that is recyclable, but usually not accepted in municipal totes and bins are single use plastic grocery bags, or most plastic bags for that matter. The bags can get caught in the machinery damaging equipment and putting employees at risk. That’s not to say that they can’t be recycled at all. Most retailers who use plastic bags have a collection point for consumers to return them somewhere in their stores. They usually have agreements to send them back to the companies that produced them. They have specialized equipment to deal with plastic bags and films. But putting them into the bins or totes is a no-no.

Then there are the items that are recyclable in some areas or programs and not in others. Shredded paper is recyclable, but is not allowed in most curbside programs because the paper clogs the trucks and flies all over the neighborhood. Yet, you are allowed to place bags of shredded paper in the bins located around Howard County. But don’t bag your other recyclables. Most bags aren’t opened and companies don’t want to risk the bag itself clogging the machinery. Items should be left loose or dumped out of a bag and the bag taken home to use again. The different policies can make it hard to know if you are doing the right thing.  

Recycle Right!

With all the different guidelines out there, and with all the conflicting information on the news and internet, recycling can sometimes seem pretty confusing. Some people might even ask, “Why recycle at all?” Recycling is an important way to reduce waste sent to landfills and incinerators, prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and conserve energy. But learning to “Recycle Right” is key to making the most of these benefits. The Howard County Recycling District along with The Kokomo Post and many other agencies, businesses, and community groups, are working together to help educate the residents in Howard County about their recycling options. By making videos, holding classes, and spreading the word, we hope to clear up some of the confusion about recycling options in Howard County and to keep you informed of any changes that affect you. And if you do find you have questions about something you need to dispose of, you can call the District at 765-456-2274. If we don’t know the answer, we will look for it for you!

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