The days of free-for-all dumping at the recycling dropbox containers scattered across Barron County may be coming to an end.

The county recycling program has begun phasing in changes in an attempt to crack down on people putting materials in recycling bins that are in fact not recyclable.

Waste to Energy/Recycling Plant Director Ray Zeman said the recycling industry has termed the practice “wishcycling.” He said grills, swimming pools, rain gutters and various other materials have been incorrectly dumped in recycling containers for years.

“These items contaminate the rest of the recyclable load, and we end up throwing a lot of recyclables away,” said Zeman.

He added that keeping trash and recycling separate can save a lot of time and labor at the Barron County recycling center south of Almena in Twin Town. When materials are appropriately separated, they can be handled with equipment.

“We have to manhandle recycling,” said Zeman. “Every time you touch something, it costs money.”

This isn’t a new problem, or an easy one to solve.

“The transition period has been a long drawn out affair,” said Zeman. “We’ve been working on manned sites for almost 2 years.”

The exact configuration of these manned sites remains a work in progress.

More signage has been added to the dropbox sites to encourage proper recycling.

The pilot for manned sites is in Chetek across from the wastewater treatment plant. An old basketball court has been fenced in, and the dropboxes will be moved inside the fence. The county has been searching for volunteers to man the site.

“We need to have face to face interaction,” said Zeman.

He said volunteers could kindly point out when someone is mixing recyclables or might be trying to dump something they shouldn’t.

But if enough volunteers can’t be found, the County will likely supplement with paid staff.

Ultimately, the 21 sites throughout the county will likely be reduced in number.

Zeman said a 2-week notice at minimum will be posted when abandoning dropbox sites. Those remaining open will only accept materials during certain hours.

If there is a savings in all this, it won’t be reflected on this year’s tax bill. Each property owner in the county is paying a $30 annual recycling fee per parcel in 2021, up from $28 in previous years. This is to help fund six new part-time positions for manned recycling sites.

As much as the public is urged to recycle, it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It has been well documented that recycling handlers struggle to find cost-effective markets. The sheer number of types of plastics and hybrids of the different types adds challenges. Public “wishcycling” and contamination are further hindrances.

But the first steps to successful recycling—and a cleaner planet—are simple: Make sure materials are empty, clean and dry, and put in the proper compartment of your local recycling dropbox. There are also the other two Rs—reduce and reuse materials when possible.