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The Dangers of Wishcycling

plastics project march blog post

End recycling contamination in Skagit County!


The Skagit Plastic Reduction & Recycling Coalition is determined to help Skagitonians reduce reliance on single-use plastics AND recycle plastic correctly. That last bit is important for a lot of reasons.

I’m an environmentalist. I recycle!” Ever since the first Earth Day in 1970, recycling in America has grown to represent the starting point for environmental stewardship. If you care about our planet, you recycle. But sometimes we want so badly to ensure all the plastics we use gets recycled that we put things into our recycling bins that end up making the whole lot unrecyclable.

Wishcycling. Have you ever wondered if a particular kind of plastic packaging is recyclable and just put it in the bin, assuming either it would be recycled or it would get ‘sorted’ out? That’s wishcycling and it causes contamination of the recycling waste stream. And no one wants contamination of the recycling waste stream! Recycling contamination is a significant problem, resulting in loads of recyclable plastics ending up in landfills. Unfortunately, this happens a lot because many of us put items that are not recyclable in the bins, or we fail to rinse recyclable plastics. In other words, we have become wishful, but kind of lazy, at the same time. Ouch.

Plastics recycling contamination. The plastics recycling process generally includes recyclables being sorted, bundled, and transferred to a recycler to undergo the process of breaking the material down so it can be made into new products. But if those shipments of recyclables contain a lot of material that is not recyclable, then the process of recycling is made much harder or even not feasible, resulting in the whole lot being disposed of rather than recycled. Recycling contamination has become such a big problem that China will no long accept plastics and other materials for recycling from the US and other countries around the world. China placed stringent requirements for levels of contamination that are significantly lower than what we currently see in the US plastic recycling stream.

It’s time for a recycling reboot.

What’s recyclable? Good question with a more complex answer than you would think. Plastic recycling is dependent on two things: the recyclability of the plastic item and the market for recyclable plastics. Recently, the market for recyclable plastics has changed dramatically because of China’s decision to stop taking recyclable plastics from the United States due to excessive contamination of the recycling waste stream.

So, what’s recyclable? In Skagit County, you have two options for recycling plastics: you have curbside recycling (generally provided by Waste Management) with a single recycling bin where you put all recyclables (plastics, glass, metal, and paper – aka comingled recycling) or you take your recyclables to the Skagit County transfer station, managed by Skagit County Solid Waste Division, where there are separate bins for different types of recyclables, including plastics.

Currently, in Skagit County:
Curbside recycling of plastics accepts clean bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs.
Transfer station plastic recycling accepts clean bottles and jugs, but not jars or tubs.

Just remember the SHAPE of the container is what’s important, not the number in the triangle. And rinse containers to remove food residue (they don’t have to be sparkling…just rinsed). Also, remove lids and never put your recyclables in plastic bags as both items can become stuck in the machinery at the recycling plant causing costly downtime.

Don’t even THINK about putting any other plastics in your recycling bins. If in doubt, throw it out. We know it’s painful, but if you aren’t sure a plastic item is recyclable, then do not put it in your recycling bin. Doing so could contaminate the recycling waste stream. It’s time for all of us to reboot our recycling habits and recycle only accepted materials, so we don’t contaminate the recycling stream and send valuable recyclables to the landfill.
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Download a flyer about the most common recycling contaminants to keep out of your bins at https://recycleoftenrecycleright.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Most-Common-Contaminants-Poster.pdf.

More details and current information can be found at the Waste Management website at http://wmnorthwest.com/skagitcounty/recycling.html.

If you take your plastic recycling to the transfer station, you can download a copy of their guidelines at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PublicWorksSolidWaste/main.htm.

 

Skagit Plastic Waste Reduction & Recycling Project

plastics display

(pictured right: FOSB Plastic Interpretive Display rolled out at Fidalgo Shoreline Academy)

Friends of Skagit Beaches -  with support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division and Padilla Bay NERR Education staff - has undertaken a new project to provide education and outreach to residents of Skagit County to reduce single-use plastics that can find their way into our waterways and become marine debris, a major issue threatening our bays and oceans.

A second goal of the project is to educate local communities about changes to plastic waste recycling requirements. As some of our readers may be aware, China is no longer accepting plastics for recycling from the United States and other countries due to the high percentage of “contamination” of the waste stream. This is not contamination of the sort you might expect, it’s really an issue of the plastic being collected containing a high-percentage of non-recyclable plastic waste. This has significantly impacted the viability of plastic recycling and changed the requirements for the types of plastic that can be accepted into the recycling stream. We are calling this part of our project a Skagit County plastic recycling “reboot” to convey that we all need to relearn what plastics can and cannot be recycled.

Friends recently received a grant from the WA Department of Ecology to support rolling out this program in Skagit County. Board member, Betty Carteret, who drafted the proposal, will manage the project. We are just getting started and recruiting volunteers to help make it a success. Friends has contracted with Joan Drinkwin of Natural Resources Consultants to lead the project and coordinate volunteer activities.

Some of you may know Joan from her work with the Skagit MRC’s Salish Sea Stewards Volunteer Program this year. She is working with Callie Martin, Skagit County Waste Reduction and Recycling Educator, to develop a full-day training program for the volunteers to learn details about issues with marine debris and single-use plastics, changes in the plastic recycling market and requirements, and alternatives to single-use plastics. Additional training will be offered to hone outreach and communication skills so our volunteers can effectively foster plastic waste reduction and proper plastic recycling in Skagit County.

Volunteers will be asked to contribute a minimum of 10 hours of volunteer time in exchange for this training program.


If you’re passionate about doing something about marine debris and plastics in our environment, we hope you’ll join the team. For more information or to sign up for the training, please contact Joan Drinkwin via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. In upcoming editions of the Friends’ newsletter look for articles about the project as our volunteers get to work in the community and what you can do to help solve the problem with plastics polluting our environment.