Callie Martin mug

Callie Martin

For the Skagit Valley Herald

Happy New Year! The roaring ’20s are upon us as we launch into the next decade, and so are changes in the recycling bin.

The turning of a new year is always a good time to reflect on things that have come to pass: What worked and what didn’t.

In 2019, single-use plastic didn’t work, anywhere. What did work was a continued up-leveling of consciousness about the negative impacts of plastic pollution, and what we can do individually and collectively to solve the problem.

At home, many of us practiced techniques for plastic-free living like shopping for our goods in bulk, and purchasing our grocery items in reusable bags and jars.

On a larger scale, the recycling industry got savvy about which consumer-based plastics were actually viable for recycling, and major edits were made to household recycling guidelines.

If you’ve been setting goals for 2020, being a great recycler should still be on your list. Here’s what you need to know.

Major cuts were made from the list of what could previously be accepted for recycling in Skagit County. After the recycling markets tanked in 2018, it took about a year to confirm which markets still remained viable for household recyclables.

Once these markets were defined, recycling guidelines changed. These are the items cut from the list that you should no longer recycle.

— Milk cartons (the waxboard kind).

— Paper coffee cups.

— Aseptic packages, like juice boxes, soup boxes, and nut and soy milk boxes.

— Plastic cups.

— Plastic clamshells.

Wishful recycling came into the light. There have always been things that we’ve wanted to recycle and couldn’t, but did anyway.

As curbside recycling increased in popularity on the West Coast, so did habits of wishful recycling. Proportionally as wishful recycling increased, the profitability of recycling markets decreased.

This well-intentioned habit led to massive recycling contamination. In 2019 the truth of being a ‘wishful recycler’ emerged, and communities and recycling companies were able to tackle the problem by rebooting recycling education programs.

After narrowing down what could truly be recycled and what could not, Waste Management came up with a new list of what could be accepted for household recycling in Skagit County.

While cleanliness of recyclables was still encouraged, the phrase ‘Recycle Right’ was introduced as a way to discourage the habits of ‘wishful recycling.’ Here are the items that can and should still be recycled clean, empty and loose, in your blue curbside bin.

— Plastic in the shapes of: jugs, tubs, and jars. Remember: Recycle by shape, not number.

— Corrugated cardboard.

— Newspaper and other mixed paper items such as egg cartons, envelopes and magazines.

— Aluminum cans.

— Steel and tin cans.

— Glass bottles and jars.

Who hasn’t hoped that the odd plastic lid, package, or filling would easily, and without regret, be swallowed up by the friendly recycling bin?

I know I have. However, now that it’s clear wishful recycling isn’t the method to increase sustainable recycling practices, I am sticking to the guidelines.

Never recycle the following ‘wishful’ items.

— Plastic ‘to-go’ cup lids.

— Plastic caps and lids.

— Electronics packaging.

— Odd plastic containers holding fruits or baked goods.

— Plastic bags or packages.

— Aluminum pie tins.

The year 2020 is promising. It provides the foundation for the next 10 years. On a local and global scale, recycling remains a profitable arm of sustainability and resource conservation.

Set out with the intention to be the best recycler you can. Go a step further by learning practices for living waste free, or approaching as close to zero waste at home as possible. A waste-free world is waiting — be one who brings it forth.

Visit skagitcounty.net/recycle for the most recent residential curbside recycling guidelines provided by Waste Management.

— For questions about home composting, and other methods of reducing garden and kitchen waste contact Callie Martin, Waste Reduction/Recycling Education specialist for Skagit County. 360-416-1575; calliem@co.skagit.wa.us.

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