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Many people in Northwest Arkansas and elsewhere will try to add things to their recycling bin that aren’t on their recycler’s accepted list. The recycling company probably could recycle this anyway, the thinking goes, or they should try. 

This is such a common problem for recyclers that they have a name for it – wish-cycling. Here’s the truth: It doesn’t work and can wide-ranging consequences.

Recyclers need a certain volume of a given material, ways to handle and sort it and, most importantly, a manufacturer or other company ready to buy it afterward. Without any of those things, the recycler cannot accept the material, no matter how many people put it in their recycling bins. 

Unacceptable stowaways will be thrown away in the trash. If there’s so much contamination that picking through it all isn’t worth the effort, the recycler has to throw away everything — the recyclables, too — which doesn’t help one bit. And contamination that isn’t caught will spoil the good stuff, hurting its quality and making it harder to sell and reuse.

Bottom line: Stick to what your recycler accepts.

Problem materials come in two types: ones that can’t be recycled in Northwest Arkansas, or at least can’t be in a way most people can access; and ones that could be recycled somewhere, just not where you are at the time.

Wrong things

Let’s start with the things that can’t be recycled and are just plain wrong. For NWA, that includes greasy pizza boxes, even though they’re made of cardboard.

Recycling programs take only the plastics that fit in very particular categories, such as bottles with #1 or #2 stamped on them. Plastic things that don’t fit in those categories are out. That means no plastic toys, no yogurt cups, no plastic plates and cutlery, no plastic household supplies and parts, and so on. Make sure you know which plastics you can recycle in your city. 

More generally, keep your recycle cart, bin or container trash-free. Every recycling company has horror stories of what they’ve found: diapers, bowling balls, dead animals, an entire lawnmower. Let’s keep things reasonable out there.

Wrong places

Other wish-cycled vagabonds could be recycled but have been a bit misdirected. For example, no grocery bags should ever go into curbside bins or carts. They can go to local grocery stores and to some rural drop-off centers in Washington County, however.

Polystyrene packaging, which you might call Styrofoam, can go to only one recycling program, the Rogers drop-off center, so don’t let it find its way elsewhere. And the same principle applies with glass and fishing line.