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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

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Portland’s “wishful recycling” problem


You know the importance of saving energy and resources by recycling as much as you can, but do you sometimes go too far? A recycling expert explains why “wishful recycling” can do more harm than good.

Why is it important to follow the recycling list?

“Recycling is about recovering resources when making new products,” says Vinod Singh, a manager at Far West Recycling, a facility that sorts Portland’s mixed recycling. To be successfully recycled, materials must be collected from residents and businesses, then sorted, cleaned, processed and delivered to manufacturers for use in their products.

“Wishful recycling is really contamination to the recycling stream,” says Vinod. “People put items in the recycling cart that they think might be recyclable or should be recyclable, and they may think they’re doing the right thing by not putting it in the garbage. But in fact they are making it more difficult to recycle the items manufacturers actually need.”

Items that are not accepted in Portland’s recycling program — like plastic to-go cups, lids and bags — have historically not had strong enough demand from manufacturers to justify sorting, processing and transporting them.

Vinod’s advice for passionate Portland recyclers? Don’t be a wishful recycler. Follow the recycling list. Not sure? When in doubt, throw it out!

Metro, the Portland area’s regional government, is tracking the issue. Read more about the change on Metro’s website. To get the most up-to-date information on where non-curbside plastics are being accepted, use Metro’s Find a recycler online database or call their Recycling Information Hotline at 503-234-3000.

For plastic bags specifically, you can also use this online tool to look up location drop-off options. For grocery store locations, it's best to call the individual location to confirm before making a special trip.

Need a recycling refresher?

Follow the list at Portland Recycles! or download the Be Cart Smart guide.