SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — “Can this be recycled?” is a question many may ask themselves as they hover over their recycling bin holding a greasy pizza box, coffee cup or AA battery.

If you have to ask and you don’t have the time to look up the answer, don’t recycle. Throw it away instead.

Consumers often don’t have the time or will to learn everything that can be recycled, so they put things they’re unsure about in the recycling in the hopes they are correct or that someone further down the line will help them out.

“That’s part of what we battle,” said Laurie Davis, the education outreach coordinator for the Department of Environmental Services. “We call it ‘wish-cycling.'”

Ashley Krug is the market development and sustainability coordinator for the Department of Environmental Services. Krug said that if people don’t know if something should be recycled, they should throw it in the trash. Just because a product has a recycling symbol on it doesn’t mean that it can be recycled in your community.

People’s well-intended recycling goodwill can invalidate itself if they aren’t properly disposing of their products. In short, people who recycle incorrectly not only get their items thrown in the landfill but also make it difficult for recycling processors to do their jobs.

People often either think they are recycling correctly or are putting things in their recycling bins hoping that someone further down in the process will figure it out. Those people do figure it out, but at some expense.

The best-case consequence is making recycling center jobs more difficult. The worst-case scenario is that improper recycling can destroy recycling equipment and even create unsafe situations for staff.

Have a second? Look it up

If you want to do your part to make sure an item is recycled or disposed of properly, you can use the Springfield Department of Environmental Services’ Waste Wizard online tool to find out where the item should go. This tool will tell you where to go — whether it’s a city recycling center or a business — as well as the address and direction to that location.

If you’re confident in your separation of recyclable products, Springfield has several drop-off recycling centers around the city.

Do not recycle these items

The Springfield Department of Environmental Services has a “Recycle Right” program that’s intended to help people who want to or are recycling recycle correctly. The trick with recycling is creating a good balance of convenience for the consumer and having to rely on the consumer to make good recycling decisions.

“Recycling is only as effective as it is convenient for the consumer,” Davis said. “The second it stops being convenient, then it becomes very much a challenge.”

Springfield offers both paid curbside pickup and drop-off recycling centers that are open to anyone, increasing the level of convenience. But if consumers could just leave the following items out of their recycling bins, the process could be significantly more streamlined and safe for recycling workers.

Cartons

One of the biggest problem items the Springfield recycling facilities have is cartons. Anything that has mixed materials cannot be recycled. Think of paper products with a plastic lining, such as disposable coffee cups.

“Starbucks cups are probably our number-one item,” Davis said. “It has a plastic lining that keeps [coffee] nice and hot for you.”

“Disposable coffee cups — I see a million of them in paper bins or recycle bins across the city,” said Krug.

Chicken broth cartons, juice cartons with waxy liners, containers with metal caps — anything that is made with more than one material should be thrown away.

Multi-material packaging

This doesn’t apply to things you can take apart, such as battery packages with plastic covers on cardboard backs. However, if you’re not going to take it apart, throw it away.

“If you’re going to leave them together, the processor doesn’t have time to take them apart,” Krug said.

As mentioned above, packages with multiple materials cannot be recycled as-is. Davis had a new Monster energy drink can that had an aluminum top fixed to a see-through plastic container. These types of packages must either be thrown away or entirely separated before being recycled. If you can’t take it apart, throw it away.

Certain hard plastics

Springfield used to accept plastics #1 through #7. These numbers are found in the recycling symbol on packages, but many products don’t have them. Springfield now only accepts plastics #1, #2 and #5.

Rather than memorize the types of plastics each product is made with, Krug suggested that people just remember bottles, jugs, and containers. Examples include soda bottles, sour cream containers, and laundry detergent containers.

Regardless of the number of plastic, you should not recycle black plastic. It dyes other plastics like a red sock in a laundry load of white clothes. Other colors of plastic are OK to recycle.

Flexible and small plastic

Do not recycle flexible plastic. Think of plastic grocery bags, the plastic that’s wrapped around bulk paper towel rolls and Saran wrap. These products get tangled up in machines and can break processing equipment.

If you’re looking for somewhere to put these products, take them to the grocery bag recycling bins at supermarkets such as Wal-Mart or Hy-Vee.

Small plastic items are a problem as well. Straws and things smaller than a credit card shouldn’t go into the recycling bin.

Glass

If you do your recycling through curbside pickup, don’t recycle glass unless you’re willing to collect it in a separate container and take it to one of the drop-off locations around Springfield and the surrounding area. While Springfield does recycle glass, the glass could potentially break in the bins during pickup and get mixed with plastic or potentially hurt someone.

Batteries

Like glass, batteries should not be put into curbside pickup bins or any other recycling bins meant for anything besides batteries. Batteries should be taken to the Household Collection Center or businesses such as Batteries Plus to be recycled. If a battery makes it to recycling equipment meant for other materials, it could cause a fire.