What Is Wish-Cycling And Why Is It Always A Bad Idea?

los alamos county


We have all been there. You’re standing in front of the recycle bin with something in hand – a beverage cap, a greasy pizza box, the tinfoil lid from a sour cream container or a crinkly cellophane wrapper. You don’t completely know whether or not you can recycle it. You want to do your part for the environment by recycling more, so you throw it in the recycle bin and assume the recycling facilities will sort it out. No harm, no foul – right? Wrong!

“Wish-Cycling” is a term recyclers use when referring to this kind of well-intended, but ultimately harmful behavior. Though it is very common, it is very damaging to the recycling program. When you toss unrecyclable items into your recycle roll cart this costs time and money, and creates waste.

Multiple recycling plants rely on high-tech machinery to sort and process our recyclables. These machines are designed to recognize and appropriately separate specific sets of items. Things like plastic bags or garden hoses can jam up the system and employees spend hours trying to fix the issue, stopping the whole operation.

On January 1, 2018, China implemented a “National Sword” policy that bans imports of multiple types of recycled plastic and paper. In 2016 China received half of the world’s exports of plastic, metals and paper. In that year, the U.S. exported 16 million tons of recycled material to China. China’s new policy is a push towards protecting the environment. It now acceps only recyclable material with 0.5% impurities (99.5% clean).

China’s ban on 32 types of recyclable materials creates a problem for countries that depend on China to recycle their material, including the United States. The U.S. Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries says this ban impacted $400 million of scrap exports from the U.S. to China.

Los Alamos County sends recycled matter to Friedman Recycling in Albuquerque. The County’s recycle contamination is 17%. We can lower this contamination rate if we stop “wish-cycling” and recycle right.

Here is a list of commonly “wish-cycled” items that DO NOT belong in your recycle roll cart.

  • Plastic bags do not belong in your blue roll cart. Take them to Smith’s and they will recycle them.
  • Glass, such as wine bottles, mason jars, vases, plates and cups do not belong in your blue recycle roll cart. Please recycle glass bottles only in our yellow glass dumpsters located at Sullivan Field Recycle Center, Overlook Convenience Center, and the Eco Station.
  • Keep rechargeable batteries out of your recycle and bring them to the Eco Station. Recycling Nickel Cadmium, Nickel Metal Hydride, Lithium Ion, Nickel Zinc, and small sealed lead acid at the Eco Station is FREE to residents who receive curbside pickup. It is safe to throw alkaline batteries in your trash because they no longer contain mercury. Those are the batteries ranging from AAA to 9-Volt.
  • For residents, the sharps containers you keep at home can come to the Eco Station and will be managed safely.
  • Food scraps will contaminate recycle material. Do not put food in recycle roll carts. You can compost your food scraps or throw the scraps away if not compostable.
  • Brush belongs in the yard trimming roll carts. Do not put brush, leaves, or yard trimmings into your recycle cart.
  • Paper cups used for coffee or water have a wax lining that cannot be recycled.
  • Styrofoam cups also cannot be recycled.
  • Greasy pizza boxes cannot be recycled.
  • Diapers are considered a biohazard and do not belong in the recycle bins.
  • Other items that do not belong in the blue recycle bin: paper towels & napkins, light bulbs, electronics, chip bags, ice cream containers, and clothing.

Residents of Los Alamos County can bring their light bulbs, electronics, scrap metals, batteries, tires, oil, antifreeze and other recyclables free of charge to the Eco Station. For more information visit the Environmental Services’ web page www.losalamosnm.us/gogreen, call 662-8163, or email solidwate@lacnm.us.