Recycling's Dirty Dozen: Beware The Tanglers!

Recycling’s Dirty Dozen: Beware The Tanglers!

  • Editor’s Note: This article is written by Brian Rhoades, business development manager of Area Recycling, Inc., along with Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, both of whom are members of the Illinois Task Force for Recycling Contamination Solutions. The article is part of a year-long a series on the “Dirty Dozen” of recycling — the 12 items that should NOT go in your recycling cart. Got local questions or concerns? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

It’s June, the weather is getting better with every passing day, and there is plenty of spring cleaning to be done. Many of us are going through our basements, garages and storage rooms in an effort to straighten up, tidy and downsize.

In our zeal to organize, we inevitably end up with many items we can’t bring ourselves to throw in the trash but don’t conform to the guidelines of our curbside programs, either.

By “wish-cycling” (a well-intentioned practice of recycling non-recyclable items) these things, you are actually causing a host of problems for the operators of your recycling program.

Tanglers are one of the most common types of non-recyclable “contaminants” faced by sorting facilities or Materials Recovery Facilities. But, what is a tangler, and why does it cause problems?

What Is A Tangler?

A tangler is any item that can become wrapped up and/or tangled around components of the sorting equipment.

Common examples of tanglers are plastic bags/film, garden hoses, extension cords, rope, strings of Christmas lights, jumper cables, wire, metal coat hangers, chains, clothing/textiles and other similar items.

Many of these things can be recycled as scrap metal at scrap metal yards, or at electronics and clothing recycling drop-off locations.

Plastic bags (clean, dry, empty bags) can be taken to Jewel or some other grocery stores for recycling. Hoses, rope, and plastic strapping are trash unfortunately, as there is nowhere to recycle them.

What’s The Problem?

Tanglers pose many problems to the equipment and operators at the MRF:

  • Downtime for the sorting line, as operators must cut, unwind, or unwrap the non-recyclable items from the equipment.
  • Equipment damage resulting from undue stresses and binding of components within the sorting system.
  • Operator injury resulting from the activities that may be required to clean out the tangled material or repair components of the sorting equipment.
  • Lost material recovery as the sorting equipment performs less efficiently.

So, What Should I take Away From This?

There are things you can do to accomplish your goal of keeping as many items as possible out of the landfill, while still observing the guidelines of your municipal recycling program.

In order to do this effectively, it’s critically important to understand what your curbside program can and can’t accept.

By recycling as many approved items as possible, and keeping everything else out of your curbside bin, you’re helping your local program operate efficiently. Here are some ideas to help keep tanglers and other items traditionally not accepted in curbside programs out of the landfill:

  • Drop off clothes, textiles, holiday light strings, electric cords and cables to a Kane County drop off location or event.
  • Save and return single-use plastic bags to local retailers. Most national grocery stores and retail chains accept and recycle these items in bulk.
  • Metal recyclers are readily available in most areas and will accept scrap metals of all kinds.
  • Check with your county’s recycling coordinator or your city’s department of public works for the best options in your local area.
  • Check out this Illinois EPA map of recycling locations to find specialty recyclers in your area.

Read The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Series!