What is Wishcycling?
You probably have a recycling bin in your kitchen full of empty takeout containers, bottles, cans, and egg cartons. Given the statistics (90% of the US population), you probably believe in recycling as a practice and so do your family and friends; hence the full recycling bin. But you—and many of the rest of us—are probably also guilty of contaminating a batch of recyclables here and there. Most of the time, this kind of contamination happens as the result of something called Wishcycling. According to Roadrunner, Wishcycling is the biggest challenge facing the recycling industry to date.
Wishcycling means what it sounds like:
recycling something in the hope that it is recyclable… without knowing for sure. It doesn’t sound so bad. It feels like the more you throw in there, the better. Unfortunately, with the way recycling is structured in the U.S. right now, the results of this kind of practice can be detrimental.
Most American citizens have limited knowledge around how recycling works. You and me both. Recycling practices also vary from city to city and region to region, depending on waste management, resources, and more, so what was already hard-to-find knowledge becomes even more confusing. Some cities are clearer about what can be recycled in their region than others; some cities have larger facilities and can recycle more types of plastics and other recyclables. Some processing facilities won’t recycle if it’s not economically sustainable, and there are even more complicated issues as you dive deep—which is a story for another day. For now, what you as a consumer need to know is how to make your own recycling practice its most functional. And that starts with education—the more you know, the less you’ll wishcycle.
How to minimize your Wishcycling:
1. Do as much research as you can on recycling in your city. Government websites typically will have this kind of information. Find out which types of plastic can be recycled, whether soft plastics can be dropped off at a facility, etc.
2. Clean and dry your used plastics, aluminum, and glass thoroughly before recycling.
3. Compost, don’t recycle, used takeout containers that are labeled as compostable.
4. Reuse glass containers or return to a drop-off facility.
5. Only recycle clean cardboards and paper products.
6. Never recycle foam materials.
7. Remove packing tape from clean cardboard boxes before recycling.
8. When in doubt, don’t recycle—just trash it. But if you can, DO try to find out first!)