Saturday, April 17, 2021

Still Life with Robin: How to Avoid Wishcycling

Image from
by Peggy Robin

The Washington Post (print edition) had a useful book review on Tuesday, April 13. The book is called “Can I Recycle This?” It’s a hands-on guide to what you can recycle, what can’t be recycled, and why – and how to avoid single-use plastics so that you don’t need to do so much recycling in the first place. But for me the real takeaway of value from the book review was a new term, a needed addition to our vocabulary of sustainability: WISHCYCLING. That’s what you call it when people dump stuff in their recycling bins that can’t actually be recycled in their cities and towns – they just WISH it could.

People in DC do it all the time. They’re still throwing plastic grocery bags in their recycling, even though DC stopped accepting them back in 2017. (You need to take them back to the grocery store and put them in the plastics recycling bin at the front of the store.)

When it comes to plastic bottles, people are ignoring the requirement that the bottles must be “empty and clean,” dropping half-filled bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and pump soaps into their blue bins, which will contaminate the whole stream.

They’re sending polystyrene food containers, plastic straws, plastic wrap, juice pouches, single-portion sauce cups, and plastic forks, knives, and spoons – all no-no’s according to DC’s Zero Waste web page, “What can I recycle at home?”: 

Want to find out what’s allowed in the blue bin? It’s easy to find out. Go to Zero Waste DC - Scroll down to the bottom of the page and find the blank search box topped by this sentence: “Type the name of a waste item and we'll tell you how to recycle or dispose of it.” Start typing the name of the item you want to get rid of. For example, “wrapping paper”. As you start to type it in, you will see the choices pop us: “wrapping paper (foil)” and “wrapping paper (paper only)”. The foil wrapping paper needs to go in the trash. The all-paper type can be recycled with newspapers and office paper. If you should start to type a variation on wrapping paper – like “gift wrap” – you will see gift bags as a choice, and when you click on that, you will learn you can put both plain paper and glossy paper gift bags in the recycling bin. But when you read the expanded entry about gift bags, you will also find the information for disposing of the other gift packaging items, as well: “Glossy and plain gift paper bags can be recycled in your curbside bin. Tissue paper, along with metallic and wax-coated paper are not recyclable and should be reused or thrown away. Remember paperboard and cardboard products are recyclable, including gift boxes and wrapping paper tubes.”

When it comes to food items, the answer – at least for now – is that you should put everything in the trash – unless you are composting it, either by using a composting bin at home, subscribing to a composting pickup service, or delivering your compost to a farmers market that accepts food waste drop-off for composting. Go to for the updated list.

When will we get curbside compost pickup? That could be the next frontier in the DC recycling game. It could come off the “wishcycling” list and become a reality...that is, if there’s the political and economic will to make it happen!


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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