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'Wishcycling': A Garden City market promotes zero-waste over recycling

Lea Rainey opened Roots Zero Waste Market & Cafe in 2019 after losing faith in the nation’s ability to recycle plastic.

GARDEN CITY, Idaho — The inability to shop at local grocery stores and fulfill a zero-waste effort frustrated Lea Rainey and her husband; they opened Roots - a zero waste market in Garden City - as a response in 2019.

"It feels good," Rainey said.

They're an environmentally conscious couple that lost faith in the latter end of the core principals - reduce, reuse, recycle. A 2022 Bennington College study - reported by NPR - suggested less than 5% of recycled plastic in the United States are actually repurposed into a new product. The study concluded up to 84% of recycled plastic end up in a landfill.

"We just know it too not be true. We call it wishcycling," Rainey said. "In the front of our store, we have the five principals of zero waste. You won't find recycle on there."

The market supplies reusable jars for rice and coffee beans, cardboard carried produce, and reusable hard plastic containers to refill dish soap and laundry detergent.

"We don't have to waste our goods. They can go right into the deli if anything. If an apple drops, we make a muffin out of it or we make juice out of it," Rainey said. "[Recycling] is meant to make people feel good, rather than think about what they are taking. I think more efforts should be made."

KTVB corresponded with the City of Boise regarding local recycling efforts, specifically for plastics, through email. Roughly 10% of plastics collected in blue recycling bins are considered 'contaminated' due to people discarding incorrect items in the bin, according to Boise's Materials Management Programs Manager Peter McCullough. The other 90% is collected by the city and sent to Western Recycling in Boise.

"The last update we had from Western they said most plastic was kept in the United States and not sent overseas, but the specific locations should be verified with them. The city does not dictate exactly where the materials are sent," McCullough wrote KTVB in an email.

Rainey doesn't believe those plastic leaving the city are recycled or repurposed at rates higher than what's reported through national averages. Rainey is in favor or recycling non-plastics including cardboards and aluminum cans.

Boise's approved - an unapproved - recyclable materials are listed on their website.

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