Wishcycling is a term used when we place items into our recycling bin hoping they will be recycled, without knowing whether or not they can be. This is also known as aspiration recycling, as we are all trying our best to recycle as much as we can. Although many of us are adopting a new sustainable lifestyle, we are not always recycling the correct things. 

Many of us have made the assumption that if we put an item, we believe can be recycled, into the recycling bin it will be recycled, especially if an item is made from plastic. Most items that can’t be recycled will have a logo to tell you this. There are also logos that tell you that an item can be recycled, but not through household collection. Therefore, it cannot be collected by your local authority with your recycling bin, it must be collected and recycled at specific places, such as at supermarkets or recycling centres, who will deal with it accordingly. 

Is adding the wrong materials into your recycling bins damaging?
Adding non-recyclable materials into your recycling bins can have damaging and costly consequences for recycling centres. Even though most non-recyclable materials can be removed easily when on the conveyor, for example large items or staples, glue and tape, there are some items that can get stuck within the machinery. This includes wires that should have been taken to an e-waste recycling centre instead. When items get stuck in the machinery the recycling process must come to a halt, in order for the item to be removed safely. This wastes time and money for the recycling centre.

Through wishcycling you can also contaminate large amounts of actual recyclable materials. Some items such as plastic-lined coffee cups and receipts on shiny paper must be thrown away as they cannot be recycled, though many people do put these in their recycling bins. One of the biggest contaminants to the recycling stream is food and liquid waste. Make sure you scrape away any large pieces of food that remains on any recyclable material that has been used to package food, and if possible, rinse them out. This is because food residue can get into the recycling stream and can contaminate large amounts of other recyclable material. Once this material has been contaminated it has to be removed and can no longer be recycled. Therefore, it is most likely going to end up on a landfill site or incinerated, adding to our carbon emissions.

Is wishcycling all the consumer’s fault?
As a green consumer, however, wishcycling is not all your fault. There are a number of reasons why people choose to wishcycle, including:

  • companies are in the habit of putting all the responsibility of recycling onto us instead of taking responsibility for their own product
  • many of the recycling and waste logos that are put onto packaging are confusing. More information regarding the different logos found on packaging can be seen in our UK Going Green article.
  • the logos that tell us an item can be recycled but not at home, don’t tell us where they can be not all local authorities collect the same types of material

Where can we find local information regarding recycling?
Make sure you always check with your local council if you are confused about what they will collect. See the UK Governments website, to find your local authorities recycling information for England and Wales, including what materials they will collect. All you need to do is search using your postcode: https://www.gov.uk/recycling-collections

If you are in Scotland you can check for this information via: https://www.mygov.scot/bins, all you need is the name of your local council.

The NIDirect website: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/recycling-and-reusing can help you to find out more about recycling, it also gives you all the information regarding local councils and where you can find recycling centres, if you are living in Northern Ireland.

What can we do?
In order to make sure we stop wishcycling we must make sure we research what the different recycling logos mean, check what your local councils and authorities will recycle in your area and make sure you know where all your recycling facilities are to recycle items that cannot go in our bins at home. If we all do this, it will stop our recycling centres from suffering from contamination making the process of recycling much more efficient. This will help us to lower our own carbon footprint and help us to go green.