“Wishcycling” is one of the biggest challenges for recycling facilities. What is wishcycling? It’s a situation where people place items in their blue recycling bins because they have a recycling symbol or it’s made from materials that you feel are recyclable. But, those items actually contaminate the recycling stream and create a situation where a container or truck full of recyclables ends up in the landfill.
Before you throw hard-to-recycle items into your trash, make sure there isn’t another way to recycle them. You’d be surprised how many unique recycling programs are out there that accept items that would otherwise end up in your landfill.
Commonly “Wishcycled” Items
What are the most commonly “wishcycled” items? Take a closer look at them.
Most people know that batteries are recyclable, but it’s very uncommon for batteries to be recyclable in a blue bin. Some batteries become fire hazards if they’re punctured. You may have seen news stories about garbage trucks catching on fire because batteries, particularly li-ion batteries were thrown in the trash.
Most states require batteries to be recycled. Some existing programs are paid for by battery manufacturers, including:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Washington D.C.
Many states require battery recycling, often paid for with point-of-sale fees, though California just passed a producer responsibility law that goes into effect in 2027. If your state doesn’t have any regulations in place, that doesn’t mean you can toss batteries in the trash. There are federal hazardous waste laws in place that apply. It’s better to recycle them, and it’s easier than you might think.
Tape over the terminals on your batteries with a piece of electrical tape and put them in a plastic container. When you go to a store like Home Depot, Staples, or Ace Hardware. If you don’t have those stores near you, visit Recycle Nation and use the locator resource to find the nearest battery drop-off location.
Don’t throw away electronics or put them in your blue bin. It’s unlikely that electronics are allowed in your blue bin. You can save them and bring them to stores like Best Buy and Staples. Your local recycling facility may also accept electronics. There are usually limits, however.
Best Buy – Most stores accept up to three items per household, per day. If that’s not helpful, look into Best Buy’s home pick-up service where you pay $199.99 for a truck to come to remove two large appliances and unlimited smaller electronics from your home.
Staples – Customers can recycle up to seven items per house. Rewards members get a $5 store credit for recycling electronics like digital cameras, rechargeable batteries, printers, and scanners.
Some computer companies, such as Dell, take back their devices. Print a postage-paid label online after filling out the form. Many companies offer this service, though it’s important to see where the items go. Some send to processing facilities outside of the U.S., which may impact whether or not data is destroyed before usable items are resold.
If you’re uncomfortable with the company’s takeback program, purchase a recycling container from ERI and mail all of your electronics using their secure e-recycling service. The fee for the container covers shipping and effective, environmentally-friendly recycling.
Greasy Pizza Boxes
Pizza boxes are made from cardboard, and cardboard is recyclable. But, greasy stuck-on masses of cheese make the boxes ineligible for recycling in many areas. You have to toss them out.
But, there are other things you can do to recycle pizza boxes and keep them out of the landfill. Do you have a compost pile for your flower beds? Compost your pizza boxes. You can also tear or cut out the greasy portion of the box and recycle the rest.
K-Cups and Small Plastic Items
A lot of people use single-serve K-cups and coffee pods each day. Those coffee pods are made of plastic and aluminum foil, but they’re not recyclable. Even if you take them apart, most recycling facilities do not recycle small plastic items that are smaller than two or three inches in size. It’s too easy for it to jam equipment.
Keurig K-Cycle offers recycling boxes that people can purchase. They separate the coffee pods, recycle the plastic and foil in their facility, and compost the coffee grounds.
Paper Coffee and Drink Cups
You’ve been to a coffee shop and they gave you a coffee cup that’s made of paper and marked recyclable. They have wax coatings to keep the beverage from soaking into the paper. They’re not recyclable. The same is true of cold beverage containers you get soft drinks in.
Save them for spring planting. Start your seedlings in these cups. When it’s time to plan a seedling, break the bottom of the cup and plant it. The cup will compost into the soil.
Partially Emptied Jars and Containers
During your refrigerator cleanout, you find some dressing containers that just expired. You really don’t want to have to empty the remaining few tablespoons of dressing, but you know the plastic bottle is recyclable. You figure it’s close enough and recycle it.
Partially emptied jars and containers are not recyclable. You have to empty them and rinse them out. They cannot have stuck-on food. If you try to recycle them anyway, you end up causing more work for the recycling facility’s staff, especially if the bottle leaks on other recyclables.
Plastic Bags and Other Plastic Film Products
Save your plastic bags, pillow mailers, bubble wrap, and other plastic film products. When you go grocery shopping, you can bring these plastic items with you and deposit them in the plastic recycling bin, often located in the bottle redemption area or store entrance.
Pyrex and Glassware
While glass jars like those that hold salad dressings, oils, and juice are recyclable, some types of glass have a different composition. They cannot be recycled. This includes Pyrex dishes, drinking and wine glasses, and glass lampshades.
If you don’t need your Pyrex, check auction sites online. Older Pyrex is often worth money if it isn’t chipped or cracked. Glassware can be donated at stores like Goodwill or local thrift shops.
Styrofoam is a petroleum-based product that isn’t easily recycled. But, that doesn’t mean items like Styrofoam peanuts or bricks have to go in the trash. If there is a UPS Store near you, see if they accept donations. Local retailers who ship their goods also accept donations of packaging materials like Styrofoam peanuts.
Recycle Nation Helps You Find Where to Recycle Items
Get to know your town’s recycling rules. Every area is different. What is recyclable in one area may not be accepted in another or vice versa. It’s important to look at your local recycling guide to ensure you’re putting the correct items in your blue bin.
Do you need help finding ways to recycle the items you can’t put in your blue bin? Recycle Nation keeps a comprehensive list of recycling facilities and programs. Visit the directory and enter your ZIP code and the item you need to recycle to get a list of centers, their hours, and contact information.