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What is wishcycling and how to avoid it

April 27, 2023

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When you put something in the recycling bin, it might seem like the end of a journey, but it’s actually just the beginning. Mixed recycling gets sorted, processed and transformed into new helpful products however, ‘wishcycling’ causes contamination and makes this process all the more difficult.

Research from drinks brand Robinsons shows more than four in ten people find recycling confusing and don’t do it properly because they can’t fathom between the myths and misconceptions. Here, we break down the truth about wishcycling, including what it is and how you can avoid it, at home or in the workplace. 

What is wishcycling?

Wishcycling, also known as aspirational recycling, is the act of placing items in the recycling bin in hopes they will be recycled, even though they may not be accepted in the recycling stream or may well be contaminated. This often includes items that someone believes or hopes will be recyclable, but they are not sure or may not have taken the time to check.

Wishcycling falls into two main categories, the first being non-target materials. These are items that can’t be sorted and processed with mixed recycling, such as crisp packets and foil pouches. This also includes materials that are recycled but need specialist processing such as soft plastics and plastic film.  

The second type of wishcycling refers to widely recycled materials that are contaminated. These items can be processed at mixed recycling facilities, but only if they are free from residue. Glass jars with food in, half-empty shampoo bottles and cheese-stained pizza boxes are examples of contaminated wishcycling. Even if the pack says to recycle, if it has residue on it, it can’t be recycled. If it cannot be rinsed or wiped, then unfortunately, it needs to go in general waste. 

Why is wishcycling an issue?

Wishcycling is a problem as it can lead to contamination of the recycling stream, which can make the recycling process more difficult and expensive. It can also lead to perfectly good recyclable items being sent to landfill because they were too contaminated to be recycled. Therefore, it is important to learn what can and cannot be recycled in your local area and to properly prepare those items for recycling.

Common wishcycling fails

Whilst a relatively new term, wishcycling as an action has been around for years and there are many products which fall foul of recycling rules. Here are the most common items that are wrongly recycled and how you can get it right.

  1. Plastic bags: Although plastic bags are often marked with a recycling symbol, they cannot be recycled in curbside recycling programs. Instead, they must be recycled at certain stores that offer bag recycling programs.
  2. Takeaway boxes: Pizza boxes and takeaway cartons are often contaminated with food and grease which makes them unsuitable for recycling. It’s best to tear off any clean sections of the box and recycle those, while throwing away the contaminated parts.
  3. Juice or soup cartons: Whilst seemingly made of cardboard, many juice cartons and soup boxes have a thin layer of plastic inside. This is difficult to separate so items like these are best disposed of in general waste.
  4. Broken glass: Small shards of glass and unwanted drinking glasses can easily get mixed in with other recyclables and cause safety hazards for workers. It’s best to wrap unwanted or broken glass in paper and dispose of it in general waste.
  5. Clothing and textiles: Although some programs accept clothing and textiles for recycling, many do not. Instead, consider donating or repurposing these items instead of putting them in the recycling bin.

How to avoid wishcycling

As well as being mindful of the common pitfalls mentioned above, there are a number of small changes you can make to avoid wishcycling. 

Taking the time to learn what can and cannot be recycled in your local area is key. Check with your local recycling program or waste management facility for guidelines and instructions. If in doubt, Recycle Now has a handy tool which tells you how to correctly dispose of your household items.

Looking out for labels is often the best way to find out whether they can be recycled or not. Common recycling symbols include the chasing arrows, but it’s worth noting that not all items with this symbol are actually recyclable so if in doubt, it might be worth checking first.

Finally, taking some extra time to separate different materials into different bins will help ensure that each type of material can be processed correctly. Likewise, rinsing out any food containers or bottles before placing them in the recycling bin will prevent whole batches of recycling being rejected.

Get a free waste review from Coastal Recycling

With our strong commitment to sustainability, Coastal Recycling aim to maximise recycling rates, handle your commercial waste responsibly and help you to reduce your waste costs. 

We can provide your business with complete commercial waste management that matches your unique business needs with an eco-conscious approach. Get in touch to request your free waste review.

Recycling might seem like the end of a journey, but it’s actually just the beginning.