Recycling contamination is one of the leading causes of the breakdown in the US recycling system. The act of wishcycling, or “wishing” that what you put in the recycling bin is actually recyclable, has skyrocketed in recent years. The fact is that 1 in 4 items in your recycling bin can’t be recycled.

That’s why Houstonians are living by these eco-friendly anti-wishcycling rules. Whether Houston residents are celebrating the holiday season with online shopping and gift giving; finding themselves clearing their house during the pandemic lockdown; or simply handling everyday materials, here are anti-wishcycling rules to follow in Houston.

#1: Styrofoam is trash-only.

Styrofoam does not belong in the curbside recycling bin. It’s notoriously difficult to recycle because of its density and porous nature, and it easily becomes contaminated.

Houstonians avoid buying polystyrene coffee cups, plates, and packaging from restaurants that still use this toxic, environmentally disastrous material. If it ends up in your home in unavoidable packaging and you can’t find a way to reuse it, the best place for it is the trash.

The rule in Houston is that Styrofoam should never go with other recyclables in your recycling bin.

#2: Food packaging stays out of the recycling.

Food packaging comes in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Sometimes the material is recyclable, but because of food contamination the item is no longer viable for use.

Items like greasy pizza boxes, chip packets, and food wrappers should go straight into the trash bin. Residents know that even a little bit of grease in the recycling load can ruin an entire batch. The goal is to keep all materials in your curbside recycling clean, empty, and food-free.

This rule is a reminder that food packaging is generally not recyclable, especially if it’s contaminated.

#3: Rinse and dry plastic containers and glass.

If your plastic or glass containers are visibly soiled, rinsing them saves the day. You don’t have to scrub them clean, but the cleaner they are the higher the chance that they will be recycled.

Glass recycling recently returned to Houston, which means that residents have more to rinse and dry than before. Once your shampoo bottles, jam jars, and margarine tubs have been drained on the rack, they’re ready for the green bin.

The general rule is to give each recyclable that might contaminate the recycling a quick rinse and dry.

#4: Reuse or collect plastic shopping bags.

Houstonians know that they can’t recycle plastic bags in their curbside recycling bins. From shopping bags to plastic sandwich bags, any thin plastic material needs to be processed at a special facility.

The good news is that the city does have a few recycling programs that accept plastic bags. Take yours down to your local grocery store, or pop round to either the Westpark Recycling Center or the Environmental Service Center, where these recyclables are accepted.

The rule is that if you can’t reuse your plastic bags, take them to one of these recycling centers.

#5: Remove all bottle lids before recycling.

Some programs say keep the lids on; some say take them off. The problem is that most bottle lids are made from a different type of plastic than the bottles they secure. In Houston, the rule is to take them off, not matter the container material.

For plastic bottles, the lids can be removed altogether and either thrown away in the trash or taken to Westpark for processing. For larger containers made of aluminum or tin, the lids can be placed inside the container itself, and then tossed in the green bin.

In this case, the rule is always to remove bottle lids before recycling the bottles or containers.

#6: Flatten that cardboard to 3x3.

Some 70% of cardboard is recyclable, if it’s clean and dry. Residents of Houston help their local recycling centers by flattening their corrugated cardboard into 3x3 sheets all around.

This makes it easier to fit inside the green bin, and simpler to empty inside the recycling collection truck. When the cardboard fits it doesn’t get soiled or wet, which keeps the load clean. That’s why it’s important to make sure your green bin with its loose contents are safely sealed inside.

The rule for corrugated cardboard is to fold it into 3x3 sheets to make it fit inside the bin.

#7: Overflow goes in paper, not plastic, bags.

Every now and then—especially around the holidays—Houstonians find that they have more recycling than they can fit inside of their green bin. The overflow is packed into a paper bag and placed neatly beside the bin for collection.

It’s tempting to use plastic bags for recycling overflow, but these just cause issues at the plant. Recycling center staff have to manually break open bags, and many end up on the conveyor belts, damaging machinery and contaminating quality recycling material.

If you have a lot of additional recycling, ask the city for another green bin.

The “overflow goes in a paper bag” rule makes it easier to process the materials inside.

#8: Always check the Recycle Coach app.

Residents who use the Recycle Coach app are recycling better than ever. The app immediately tells them what can and what can’t be recycled in the city.

The best way to end wishcycling is to introduce a resource like this into your recycling routine. If you ever need to know what to do, or when collections are, or you want to improve your general recycling IQ—this app’s mission is to help the people of Houston recycle right.

Find out more about the app here, or download it on Apple or Google Play. Recycle Coach has been available in the City of Houston since 2019 courtesy of Keep Houston Beautiful, a local nonprofit that works to keep the city litter-free and knowledgeable on proper recycling.

These 8 anti-wishcycling rules are how the people of Houston are working with their city to reduce recycling contamination and increase how much is being recycled. Are you on board yet?

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