Getting It Right
by Carolyn Stein

Notes From the Field: A Sustainability Consultant’s Perspective by Carolyn Stein

Getting It Right

Recycling is an Oregon value. At home, at work, at school and even at a local festival or event, we find recycling bins.  The only trouble with having recycling as a common practice is that mistakes are often made.  Those of us in the recycling/sustainability business call this “wishful recycling”- the act of believing something is or wanting something to be recyclable. The truth is, many items that have the recycling symbol on them aren’t necessarily recyclable, and plastics are the trickiest.

At a recent sporting event, I volunteered to manage the waste, recycling and compost. Bins for all three materials were provided throughout the venue, including the locker rooms. Used by several female athletes, the locker room bins were filled with the typical fare, banana peels, sports drink bottles and interestingly enough-red party cups. As I pulled the cups from the recycling bin and deposited them into the trash a young woman asked me what I was doing.  I explained that red party cups are trash. Incredulous, she couldn’t understand why. “ They have the recycling symbol on them!” she exclaimed.


Call me strange, but whenever I travel, I read the website for my destination. Most municipalities list waste disposal and recycling rules for the community and each one is unique. For example, in Eugene/Springfield our rule for plastics recycling is bottles, tubs and jugs only. That means juice-type beverage bottles, cottage cheese/butter tubs, and milk jugs. That’s it. No lids, no clamshells from your Thai dinner or the cookies from the bakery aisle. No odd shaped plastic packaging that covered a new gadget, no plastic film or bags, and definitely no red party cups.

A quick tour of the San Francisco recycling pages reveal many more recycling options for plastic. There, you can recycle red plastic party cups, straws and even old pens, in addition to the items that are recyclable in Eugene and Springfield.  So, with so many items that we use in our daily lives destined for the landfill, what is a Wishful Recycler to do?

First off, remember the waste hierarchy- reduce, reuse, and then recycle. By reducing the amount of stuff we buy and use, the natural progression will result in  less stuff to wishfully recycle. Secondly, look for items that are reusable. Travel mugs and canteens are an easy way to eliminate the red plastic party cup.  As a last resort, recycle. When you do, get it right.

Carolyn is a Sustainability Management Consultant and Program Manager for RE:think Business, a free consulting service and certification program for businesses in Lane County. In her spare time she organizes and implements sustainable events for the Emerald City RollerGirls where she is affectionately known as “RePsycho.”She can be reached at

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