Wish-cycling - /wiSHˈsīkliNG/ - the action of placing an item into the recycling bin with the hopes of it being recycled, usually creating more waste by contaminating actual recyclables

When in doubt, throw it out!

Did you know that your paper coffee cup isn’t recyclable? In fact, it never was due to the paper being treated with a plastic coating (known as polycoat) that is hard to separate. The cardboard, on the other hand, is highly desirable.

How about something that general intuition would tell us is definitely recyclable - like the top of the paper coffee cup? Well, this is a little more complex since it depends on your location and the plastic’s number. While it may be recyclable at home, Tompkins County and Cornell are currently accepting only #1,2, and 5. So if a coffee cup top is a #6, it should be thrown away. By placing non-recyclable or non-accepted material in the blue bin, you’re contaminating not just that entire receptacle but potentially entire truckloads of reusable materials. If you’re unsure if a certain material is recyclable, odds are it isn’t…

Why isn’t this recyclable anymore?

For most of the 20th century, the US and other countries became increasingly dependent on China to take their recycling. Given the country’s willingness to accept these materials for processing, the incentive to produce domestic end markets here in America was small. With China’s recent emphasis on a cleaner future, our baled recyclables are no longer desirable in their current state. The result is commodity fallout and a complete disruption of the material management industry.

To learn more about Operation National Sword and Green Fence Policy, read here or listen here. If you’d like to join the conversation, consider reading some of these blogs!

What you can do to help

Although the recycling industry is fractured, it will recover as local markets develop and EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) grows. But in our local community, you can help by reading Cornell’s new recycling guidelines to make sure your waste is disposed of properly. Even better, reduce the amount of waste you produce by bringing your own mug for coffee or your own reusable utensils whenever possible. Explore more of Cornell’s reuse and recycling resources here.

Unifying a fractured system

To solve systemic challenges in the solid waste industry, we must transition from the take-make-waste model to a sustainable materials management framework. The Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol (SWEEP) seeks to achieve just this by identifying and rewarding public and private sector leaders in sustainable waste management, similar to what LEED did for buildings.

CSC has joined this effort by highlighting best practices and stimulating professional dialogue within the Tompkins County wasteshed. By bringing SWEEP to the local region, communities, municipalities and industries alike are given a pathway to take noble steps toward utilizing waste for community empowerment, environmental protection, and economic prosperity. Learn more here.