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What to do with that...

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

what is contamination and how to ensure you don't accidentally cause it.

You’re at a BBQ at the park, having an amazing time — but now it’s time to clean up and head home.

On the tables are empty bags from hotdog and hamburger buns, aluminum foil from the top of the tray of brownies - empty chip bags, empty grocery bags, and of course the leftover food that you will be packing up to send home with everyone at the event.

There are also paper plates and cups, juice boxes for the kids, and paper towels left on most of the tables — forgotten and left for you to dispose of.

This park is gorgeous and has clean, empty trash and recycling receptacles ready for you to use. You know that recycling is the right thing and it feels good to reduce trash, so you gather up the plastic bags, aluminum foil, chip bags and paper products and put them….where?


Wishcycling is the act of tossing something in your recycling bin with the mere hopes that it is recyclable. Often due to misleading packaging, and good intentions, people put items into recycling containers hoping that it can be recycled. More often than not, many recycling processing facilities are unable to process these items.

Unfortunately, this lack of being able to process items leads to what we call contamination.

Recycling Contamination

Recycling contamination is non-recyclable material or garbage that ends up in the recycling system. If your recycling bin is collecting specific items, such as beverage containers, then anything other than that specific material could be considered a contaminant. This means that even a piece of paper that was tossed into your plastics bin can contaminate the whole stream.

Here at Green Living Science, we often perform recycling contamination checks for our Bee Green Businesses, or in curbside containers. It helps us to get a better picture of what education needs to be done to clear up the system and ensure that as much recyclable product as possible is able to make its way through the system to be reused.

So back to your BBQ conundrum: what do you do with the products that you think are recyclable?

Plastic bags from hotdog buns and the grocery store - while these are recyclable, only specialized processing facilities can process film plastics. It is best to take these to collection sites, such as grocery stores, to recycle these products.

Aluminum foil from the brownies - Aluminum foil, if clean, and collected in large enough quantities can be processed; but one singular piece, or pieces that have food on them, can not be recycled and need to go into the trash.

Chip bags are tricky. We all want chip bags to be recyclable, but unfortunately they aren’t. However, there are some fun upcycled projects you can use chip bags for if you scour the internet.

And as for your paper plates, cups, paper towels and juice boxes. Most of these items are lined with wax (so they don’t leak) which will contaminate any future use of them. Luckily they break down quickly and won’t be around for hundreds of years (like styrofoam products).

We all want recycling to matter and to do our part in order to leave the Earth better than we found it. Helping to eliminate recycling contamination is one way to do that, just a little bit better than yesterday.

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