By Jill Draper
Are you a wish-cycler? If you’ve ever tossed shredded paper, plastic bags, Styrofoam egg cartons, plastic utensils or wrapping paper into your recycling bin, the answer is yes.
Wish-cycling is the practice of putting questionable items in the bin, hoping they can somehow be recycled.
Don’t do it, says Shannon Dooley of Kansas City’s Solid Waste Services Division. “When in doubt, throw it out.” Broken umbrellas, bowling balls, strands of Christmas lights, garden hoses, light bulbs, paper towels—all are things she has seen come through the system. And all go to the landfill, sometimes ruining other recyclable items they’re mixed with.
“I was definitely a wish-cycler,” says Audrey Lambert, a 17-year-old at Pembroke Hill School who lives in the Plaza area. “I used to be on my family all the time to recycle more things.” When she found out the situation was complicated, she decided to research recycling for a school project, and later used the project to earn her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts.
The phrase “wish-cycling” (which may have been coined by Bill Keegan, president of a recycling company in Shakopee, Minnesota) caught her attention. “I saw it in an article and I ran with it,” Lambert says. She used the phrase in the title of a children’s book, “Are You a Wish-Cycler?,” she wrote and self-published on Amazon last June. Her mother’s former co-worker did the illustrations.
Lambert, a junior in high school, planned to promote the book in local schools by reading it aloud and creating an Earth Day curriculum. The pandemic interrupted those plans, so she’ll try again next spring. But she was able to partner with Bridging the Gap and KCMO for National Recycling Day last November on a public service announcement.
“Obviously there’s pollution and all these really big problems in the world,” she says. “Recycling is something that I can do.”
Her book lists tips for what’s recyclable and what’s not (no greasy pizza boxes, for example) and notes that it’s okay to leave plastic lids and caps on containers. She also offers statistics—70% of garbage found in landfills is recyclable and it can take up to 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose.
Dooley, too, has tips for city residents. Don’t put out newspapers, magazines or cardboard for curbside pickup when it’s raining because the material will be too soggy to recycle. “Just wait another week,” she says. Flatten your cardboard boxes (after removing any packing material) but don’t flatten aluminum cans—otherwise they may get stuck in the machinery. If you run out of bin space, it’s fine to use cardboard boxes, paper bags, a laundry basket or any container no larger than 32 gallons to hold recyclable materials.
Plastics are confusing. The city will accept numbers 1-7, but they’re not all recycled, because the market is always changing. Currently numbers 1, 2 and 5 are the most valuable. But don’t include plastic bags, bubble wrap, Tupperware, toys or similar items. In addition to curbside pickup, there are three drop-off centers, including one at 5200 E. Red Bridge Rd. Find out more at kcmo.gov.