Blog Post

The Problems & Dangers of 'Wishcycling'

Wishcycling has a very negative impact on our environment.

Yet fewer than half of Americans who say they recycle know the basic rules for recycling. They're confused about what to put in the bin and what to throw away. In the end, many toss non-recyclable items into the recycling bin. After all, what could it hurt? Unfortunately, quite a lot.

This practice, known as wishcycling, is dangerous to the environment and community health. Read on to learn more about wishcycling and how to avoid it. 

What is 'Wishcycling'?

Wishcycling is a term developed by the recycling and waste industry to educate the public about the dos and don'ts of recycling. It occurs when people put items into the recycling bin they hope facilities can reuse or repurpose, but they're not sure the item is actually recyclable. They end up throwing in items they can't recycle alongside those they can.

Wishcyclers have good intentions. They hate the idea that their coffee cups, pizza boxes, and ink cartridges will end up in a landfill. When in doubt about sorting their waste, wishcyclers err on the side of caution.

This practice continues to grow as companies push recycling messages to their customers. They encourage the public to recycle their products and protect the environment. This increases people's desire to recycle as much of their waste as possible, leading to more wishcycling. 

And this problem is further complicated because companies use misleading product labels. Many include the recycling symbol even if it's non-recyclable, which confuses the public about which items can go in the recycle bin.

How Does a 'Wishcycler' Affect the Recycling Process?

Americans wish they could reduce the amount of waste in landfills. But the rules of recycling are key to an effective, safe, and a cheaper recycling process.

Contaminates Recycling Batches

When people throw items meant for a trash can into a recycle bin, they contaminate recycling batches. This happens because recyclable materials mix with wet, dirty, or mismatched materials. If too many of the wrong items are included in a bale of recycling then the entire bale may be rejected by the end user, sending the material to the landfill after all that time and money was spent on collecting and sorting the material for recycling.

Endangers Workers 

Besides contaminating bales of material, certain materials can be dangerous to employees who work at the recycling centers. Batteries, electronics, syringes, and hazardous waste can create fires and injure employees working along sorting lines.

Clogs & Breaks Recycling Machinery

Wishcycling can also clog and break processing machines. Plastic bags, clothing, garden hoses, dog leashes, and other tanglers wrap around the spinning discs and rotating conveyors used to sort materials. VHS tapes may stretch across belts and damage gears. When this happens, the processing machines cannot sort recyclables going through the facility. Also, metal parts may get stuck on magnets in the facility, leaving metal on the belt.

When machines clog and break, this also increases the cost to process recycled materials. The recycling process must stop while the machines are being fixed, which can be time-intensive and expensive. New equipment and parts drive up costs as well. Many communities are responding to these problems by simply shutting down curbside recycling.

While wishcyclers hope to recycle as much of their waste as possible, their sorting behavior actually undermines the recycling process, leading to more waste and costs. If a person isn't sure an item is recyclable, it's best to throw it in the trash.

Most Common Culprits of Wishcycling

Wishcyclers often throw the everyday products they use in their homes or businesses into a recycle bin. These items may look recyclable because they have a paper or cardboard exterior, or are items that are recyclable if they were clean and dry. 

The items most likely to get thrown into a recycle bin by mistake are:

- Greasy pizza boxes
- Plastic bags
- Disposable coffee cups
- Plastic utensils
- Ink cartridges
- Electronics

While these items seem recyclable, they're not. Make sure to toss them in a trash can or dispose of them properly. 

What to Do With Items That Can't Be Wishcycled?

If a person is uncomfortable tossing items in the trash, there are other options besides wishcycling. Below are 3 ways to get rid of non-recyclable items besides the landfill.

1. Recycle Them Through a Specialized Program 

While people can't place the items above in a common recycle bin, they can recycle them through specialized programs.

Many grocery stores have drop boxes for customers to return grocery bags, ziplock bags, chip bags, trash bags, and other plastic bags. Other retailers collect old batteries, CFL lightbulbs, electronics, and printer cartridges. Look for the special bins inside stores.

Companies and community programs also offer pick-up, mail-in, or drop-off services to repurpose and dispose of household hazardous wastes. These include paints, motor oil, mercury-containing devices (such as thermometers), and garden chemicals.

Always check with your local solid waste management district for options.

2. Repurpose or Reuse Them 

Have a creative streak? There are a lot of ways to repurpose or reuse items rather than toss them in the trash.

Turn plastic bottles, glass, and used cardboard into flower pots and home storage. Now there's a place to store herbs, spices, office supplies, and many other items.

Have a lot of old clothes and tanglers? Cut them up and use them around the house as wash rags or dog towels. And store plastic bags in a bin or drawer for later use. Old bags work great to line small trash bins, carry household items, and serve as a useful supply on dog walks.

Other items make great art supplies for kids and adults alike. Save rubber bands, popsicle sticks, cardboard, metals, and plastic spoons to turn into fun sculptures, figures, and garlands.

3. Donate Them

Rather than tossing out old appliances, tools, or electronics, donate them to people in need. Many organizations like schools, community centers, thrift stores, and nonprofits accept second-hand goods. They then use donations in community projects or sell those items to raise money for the organization's work.

Recycling is a great way for eco-conscious Americans to reduce waste if done correctly. Wishcyclers mean well, but improper sorting creates many new problems. The good news is that Americans can always learn new ways to put their waste to better use.

Interested in learning more? Contact us for more information on avoiding wishcycling and making your recycling count.

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