Blue recycling bin with the words "We Recycle" and the chasing arrows recycling triangle.  Inside the bin are glass bottles, metal cans, and papers.

#Aspirational Recycling

Aspirational Recycling (also known as Wishcycling), as defined by Collins Online Dictionary:  The practice of putting something in a recycling bin without being certain that it is actually recyclable

Do you know the recycling rules for your community? I thought I knew, but what I’ve recently learned is that I’ve been contaminating my high-quality recyclables with items the city doesn’t want to collect.  I think of this as “Aspirational Recycling” because I want to believe that I’ve been doing the right things to avoid landfilling items that could otherwise have another life. It feels good to do good, right?

I thought if there was a chasing arrows triangle icon with the number in the center, it was good to include in the recycle bin.  Wrong.  This arrow-triangle-number thingy only indicates the type of plastic used to produce the item.  And to add insult to injury, just because an item can be recycled doesn't mean it will be recycled. 

As a resident of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, I am required to recycle.  According to my community recycling guidelines, the city has stopped looking at the number and instead relies on “shape” to identify items it collects for recycling.  The city wants plastic bottles, but only if they have a “neck” – like 20oz drink bottles, laundry detergent bottles and the like.  They don’t want the plastic caps, plastic take-out boxes and produce clamshell boxes.  They want steel and aluminum cans, but they don’t want the lids if they are removed from the can, and they don’t want metal jar lids.  They don’t want aluminum foil trays or used foil wrapping. They want glass bottles and jars, but not pyrex, drinking glasses, baking dishes, etc. This really bummed me out.  I thought by including these items I was doing my part.

I started searching for more information, hoping that there was a place for the recyclable materials my city doesn’t want, and I stumbled upon Recycle This Pittsburgh. This fantastic resource illustrates item by item what is acceptable for collection and identifies the entities that accept the materials.  Obviously, this link is only useful to those living in Southwest Pennsylvania, but I encourage you to look for similar resources in your community.  The take-away is that there are businesses that accept more materials than what can be picked up curbside.  The caveat is additional effort is required on our part if we want to participate.  Effort meaning segregating the materials, making sure they are clean, and then of course taking them to the various collection points. 

Ok, so I’ve made some changes in my recycling behavior: I’m leaving can lids attached, and I'm omitting the clamshells, takeaway boxes, plastic caps and metal lids from my curbside collection bin.  I'm separately collecting these other items in my own bins until I have enough set aside to warrant a special trip to the locations that accept my city-unapproved recyclables.  Is this a form of guerilla recycling? Nope, but I like the idea and I'm going to think of it that way anyway.  Steph, The Rebellious Recycler. 

I’m also looking for ways to reduce the need to recycle – I’m taking my own containers to restaurants, I’m bringing my own shopping bags to stores, and I’m trying to pare down my grocery shopping list.  I’m asking myself, “Is this item a need or a want?

There’s another piece to this puzzle too – asking the corporations we purchase our groceries, clothes, electronics, etc., not to use wasteful packaging in the first place and take back the packaging materials if they aren’t readily recyclable. 

Recycling is such a complicating thing, and there are so many rabbit holes to chase in this topic so I’ll end here and leave you with my call to action:

Take a minute to understand your community’s recycling rules and follow them to ensure that the items you’ve carefully committed to the recycle bin do, in fact, get recycled. 

Here are a few links to help you understand where to take items that might not be accepted in your community’s curbside recycling program. 

Happy Recycling,




General Information about the Reduce – Reuse – Recycle philosophy

Specific information about where to recycle in your community

Plastic Films like grocery bags, bread bags, ziplock bags, drycleaning bags, bubble wrap and the like (USA, Canada)

Natural Corks from Wine and Champagne Bottles (USA, Ghana, Australia)

Note: the website recommends to contact your intended drop-off location ahead of time to confirm they are accepting cork, and to enquire about specific drop-off hours

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