Wishcycling: You can’t wish your waste away

Day 127 – I am guilty of placing things in my recycling bin, not really knowing if they can be recycled or not. I hope they can and figure the people at the recycling center can make the call. However, there is a real problem when you rely on wishful thinking to recycle your waste.

This post will outline what the City of Chicago accepts in their blue bins. Personally, I have lost faith in the Chicago recycling program and have started going to an independent recycler. There, I drop off my accepted and sorted recyclables. If it’s at all possible for you, I highly recommend you find a company or organization that collects recyclables. The likelihood of these items being recycled is greater than using your blue bin. I have heard of churches collecting paper and cardboard. Scrap yards will collect your metals, like aluminum.

Only these items should be placed in your blue bin:

  1. Food and beverage cartons – Orange juice cartons, milk cartons, juice boxes (not pouches). Empty carton and replace the cap.
  2. Aluminum and steel cans – Pop cans, cans that store vegetables and other non-perishables – Clean out cans. Place lids of can inside the can. The smaller the item, the harder it is to properly sort.
  3. Glass bottle and jars – Empty and clean bottles and jars.
  4. Paper – Mixed Paper, mail, newspaper, magazines and flattened, clean cardboard.
  5. Plastic – Milk jugs, shampoo bottles, laundry detergent bottles, food containers (like sour cream and spreadable butter)

Let’s talk more about plastic. This category becomes the most confusing. When you see a number with the chasing arrows on your packaging, it does not always mean that it is recyclable. All this is telling you is the type of plastic you have.

Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. soda bottles
  2. water bottles
  3. salad dressing containers
  4. mouthwash bottles
  5. peanut butter containers

This plastic is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. milk jugs
  2. household cleaner containers
  3. juice bottles
  4. shampoo bottles
  5. detergent bottles
  6. butter tubs
  7. yogurt containers

This plastic is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl) – Only detergent & shampoo bottles & rigid clear food packaging accepted curbside

  1. food wrap
  2. plumbing pipes
  3. detergent bottles
  4. shampoo bottles
  5. clear food packaging
  6. cooking oil bottles

This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) – NONE of these are accepted curbside

  1. squeezable bottles
  2. shopping bags
  3. clothing, carpet
  4. frozen food bags
  5. bread bags
  6. some food wraps

This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene) – ALL ACCEPTED curbside

  1. yogurt containers
  2. ketchup bottles
  3. syrup bottles
  4. medicine bottles

Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bicycle racks.

Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene) – NOT accepted curbside

  1. foam egg cartons
  2. foam plates and cups
  3. anything considered styrofoam

It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.

Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous – NOT accepted curbside

  1. All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category
  2. sunglasses
  3. iPod cases
  4. computer cases

It is recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.

These things should never go into your blue bin.

  1. No plastic bags or wraps. Even the blue bags made for recyclables.
  2. No food or liquid
  3. No scrap metal
  4. No hoses, cords or chains

This list could go on and on. There is a lot more that can not go in your blue bin than can go in. If you end up putting something in your blue bin that is not recyclable, you run the risk of contaminating your entire bin. If this happens, it will all end up in the landfill.

The City of Chicago created an A-Z list for items and if they are recyclable. I am currently in the process of making my own list with resources are know are up to date. I can not say the same for the city’s list, but it is a good start.

Click HERE for a picture guide of recyclable items accepted by the City of Chicago.

Ultimately, we have to cut down on the amount of waste we are producing. The market for recyclables is shrinking and we are beginning to run out of places to put stuff. As a society, we need to move to a circular economy if we are to survive and not be buried under our own garbage.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this video created by NPR. It explains the complicated business of recycling and the idea of wishcycling.

Is Recycling Worth It Anymore? People On The Front Lines Say Maybe Not

Tomorrow, the donation centers do not want your broken stuff.