Wishcycling, how not to do it

Wrapping paper discarded for recycling with tape still in tact

Stop Wishcycling

Wishcycling: To put items into your recycling bin in the ‘hope’ that they can be recycled, but without knowing if they are recyclable. 

We’ve all done it. We’ve paused for a moment before putting an item into the recycling bin but without really knowing if the item is, in fact, recyclable. 

Whilst intentions are very well meaning, ‘wishcycling’ is a huge issue that not only causes a number of problems at recycling facilities but also leads to contamination of genuinely recyclable materials. Contamination reduces the value of recyclable material and sadly, contributes to more recyclable waste heading to landfill. Just one non-recyclable item can spoil an entire batch of otherwise good material. 

However, wishcycling shows that people WANT to recycle and it is vital that consumers don’t stop recycling because of confusion and variations in what materials can and can’t be recycled in different areas. 

Commonly ‘wishcycled’ items:

Here are a few of the most commonly ‘wishcycled’ items and what to do with them instead:

  • Plastic bags cause a lot of confusion when it comes to recycling. Plastic shopping bags, frozen food bags, produce bags and crisp packets are all regularly found in recycling bins – placed there by well-intentioned recyclers. Whilst these items CANNOT be put in with your plastics recycling for kerbside collection, you can now take your plastic bags for recycling at some local supermarkets.
  • Wrapping paper – another confusing item because a lot of wrapping paper CAN be recycled but not if it is heavily dyed, laminated, decorated with glitter or plastics. Shiny foil or very thin wrapping paper is also unrecyclable as this type of wrapping paper contains less paper and more plastic. Please remember to remove any ribbons, bows and sticky tape before placing in your paper-recycling bin. And buy simple paper this year… ideally made from recyclable paper itself! 
  • Food containers– from jars to pizza boxes; if there is food stuck to the container then the item CANNOT be recycled. Recyclables must be CLEAN and DRY before being placed in the recycling bin. Contamination from food is one of the main reasons recyclables are not recycled so give your items a good rinse (soap not necessary) and ensure they are free of stuck-on foods. 

How to improve recycling and stop ‘wishcycling’:

Public confusion about what is and what is not recyclable could be easily resolved with improved labeling, clear communications and more consistency in the materials that are collected by councils. 

For example, almost all UK local councils collect plastic bottles for recycling. This allows plastic bottle manufacturers to clearly label that the item is widely recycled and the public can recycle with confidence. However this is not the case with all materials – leading to confusion… and wishcycling. 

A streamlined approach to kerbside collections across the UK and a fixed labeling system on products will educate consumers on best recycling practice, helping people to make the right recycling decisions. This will directly improve the sorting process at recycling facilities, increase recycling rates and reduce contamination. 

Additionally, the more packaging is designed for recycling, the more likely it is to be recycled. We need simpler materials and more consistent designs.

All of these changes will help contribute to a cleaner, safer and more sustainable environment and will help achieve the government’s 65% recycling rate for ‘waste from households’ by 2035. 

It is important to remember that collecting materials is not the same as recycling them. It is only when a material is recycled into something else that we see the economic and environmental benefits.

However until the system improves please check your local council website for information on what can be recycled at kerbside collections and at local refuse centres. But if in doubt, don’t wishcycle, throw it out. 

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