Wish-cycling: know your stuff

Not sure whether you should be recycling certain items? Tara Bloom tells us why wish-cycling may be doing more harm than good

Wish-cycling is a well-intentioned but harmful behaviour, which involves throwing questionable items into a recycling bin in the hope that they will be recycled. You may have wish-cycled if you’ve looked at an item and thought ‘This should be recyclable’ or ‘I’m not sure about this, but I don’t want it to go to landfill,’ and put it in the recycling bin with no further thought. However, wish-cycling can have a significant impact on our fragile recycling systems, and is harming our planet, due to the contamination of different products which leads to less recycling and more waste harming our planet.

Contaminated waste is a huge problem in recycling. It occurs when different types of material are mixed in a way that a recycling facility can’t deal with – this can be recyclables mixed with nonrecyclables, or different sorts of recyclable materials mixed together, for example, plastic with paper. Materials contaminated by food or grease are a growing problem as recycling has become more widely adopted. This contamination results from a lack of education, the introduction of single-stream recycling (where all types of waste are placed in the same bin) and the increase in the amount of different types of material used for packaging. When the proportion of contaminated material in a batch of recycling gets too high, the entire batch will be sent to landfill, even though there will be items within it that are recyclable. The tolerable proportion will vary depending on who is doing the recycling and what their profit margins are.

Recycling facilities use automated machinery to separate waste, which may need to be stopped if the wrong type of material enters it. This means that the recycling process takes longer and costs more money – the more money it costs, the less return the company gets from recycling the material. For recycling to be viable, companies who carry it out need to make a profit – the value of processed recyclable material is declining, which means that if the cost increases, companies may decide to stop altogether. They could also choose to reject waste from repeat offenders, which means local authorities and businesses may not be able to recycle any of their materials.

For more guidance, head to recyclenow.com


End the cycle

Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of wish-cycling. However, by taking a little extra time to get to know what our products are made from, and how we can recycle each material, we can make informed decisions on how to dispose of our waste correctly and avoid purchasing products which will have to go to landfill.

Know the rules: Make sure you understand your local authority’s recycling system and what they will and won’t recycle. If you have separate recycling streams, make sure you clean items, remove any lids, then place each material in the correct bin. If you have single-stream recycling, make sure items are dry and intact to avoid contamination.

Separate your products: A lot of food is packaged using a combination of different materials, such as cardboard and plastic. To ensure everything is recycled correctly, make sure you read the back of the packet to understand what can and cannot be recycled. If your local council doesn’t recycle certain items curbside, you may be able to do it at your local waste processing facility. Save up those items and take them separately when you’re able.

Leave it out: No more wish-cycling! If your council doesn’t clearly say that an item can be recycled, put it in the bin that will go to landfill. Although it may feel sad to do this, it is better to avoid the risk of contaminating other recycling and you can look for alternative products in the future.


Problem products

Think twice before you throw these items in the recycling bin:

Plastic bottle lids: The caps of bottles are often made from different plastic to the body, which means they usually can’t be recycled.

Plastic bags: These can’t typically be recycled in household waste, but they are often collected for recycling at supermarkets.

Baby or pet food pouches: These packages feel like they should be recyclable but are unfortunately not a variant of plastic that can be commonly recycled, and should be sent to landfill.

Coffee cups: Disposable coffee cups are often mistaken for paper, yet most takeaway coffee cups are lined with plastic, which means they won’t be recycled. Avoid them by purchasing a reusable cup.

Crisp packets: Although they look like foil, which can usually be recycled, they can’t be recycled with your household recycling.

Fruit and vegetable packaging: This soft plastic wrap usually can’t be recycled, although in some cases, it can be recycled with plastic bags in supermarkets. It’s best to look out for labelling on the back which will give further information.


For more from Tara, check out getfoodsaurus.com

This article first appeared in Issue 1 of Be Kind magazine, published January 2019