Have you ever tossed an item into the recycling bin that you weren’t sure was actually recyclable?  There’s a term for that: “wish cycling”.  While many items are indeed recyclable, some pieces of trash are actually problematic at recycling facilities, and can damage equipment or contaminate other materials, lowering the overall value of recyclables.  Some problematic items include plastic bags, food pouches, loose shredded paper, sharps and tires.  I recently came across an article that features some problematic “wish cycling” items, as well as what you can do to deal with them.

To stop wish cycling, first and foremost you need to know exactly what is accepted into your recycling program.  Most haulers accept cartons, glass bottles and jars, paper and cardboard boxes, plastic containers and metal cans.  If you aren’t sure, then check with your city or hauler for a list of materials that are specific to your recycling program.  Of course, keep in mind that many items can be recycled beyond your recycling cart at home.  Listed below are some common “wish cycling” items:

plastic bags

Plastic bags: Since they tangle in machinery and clog machines to stop the recycling process for hours at a time, plastic bags are one of the hardest materials for recycling facilities to handle.  Yet plastic bags can easily be recycled at drop-off locations.  They’re accepted at various retailers so long as they’re clean and dry.  You can also reuse plastic bags as garbage bags or to pick up pet waste.  To limit the amount of plastic bags you end up with, try using reusable shopping bags and stay away from products with excessive plastic wrapping.

energizer batteries

Batteries: Plenty of items at your home will most likely contain batteries.  Many household batteries, including small button ones found in greeting cards and watches or rechargeable batteries, contain hazardous materials that could harm the environment if not properly recycled.  Since their small size makes it hard for machinery to sort them at recycling facilities, they can’t be placed in residential bins.  Therefore, find drop-off options for rechargeable batteries and check with your county for additional drop-off recycling options.

Styrofoam: Also known as polystyrene, this petroleum-based plastic is used in a variety of products.  There are few drop-off sites for foam blocks, so limit the amount of styrofoam you acquire by bringing your own lunch or cup.  If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can try making it into decorations or seedling starters.