Ever heard of wish-cycling?

If not, no worries, you’re definitely not alone. Turns out a lot of us are in the dark when it comes to this bad habit. That’s just one reason why so many of us do it.

It’s happened to most of us: you’re about to dispose of something, maybe it’s a greasy pizza box, a plastic straw from a Tetra Pak juice carton, or a stack of wire hangers, and you realize you’re not sure where it should go—garbage or recycling?

You don’t want to add more waste to the planet, so you toss your tricky item in your recycling container, hoping it’ll get recycled. Worst case, if you made a mistake, you assume the recycling facility will be able to fix it. Not true. Unfortunately, simply wishing for something to be recyclable doesn’t make it so.

Wish-cycling might start with the best of intentions, but it’s one of the biggest issues facing waste management today. This is because it actually creates more waste in the long run. It also makes recycling potentially unsustainable, which is obviously a bad thing. So let’s take a closer look at why we need to collectively kick this bad habit. Then, we’ll offer you some tools to help you get from wish-cycler to recycler extraordinaire.

Wish-Cycling Makes More Waste

There’s a tragic irony to wish-cycling. Often, people do it because they think they’re cutting back their waste. Sadly, the opposite happens. Wish-cycling contributes in a big way to contamination, which is when an incorrect item or material is added to a specific waste stream, in this case the recycling stream.

When a batch of recyclables is contaminated, there’s a good chance it’ll be rejected and end up in the landfill. In other words, because of that one problematic thing you tried to recycle, tons of properly recycled items get landfilled. I think you’ll agree that this is a tragedy, and it runs completely counter to what recycling is all about.

Wish-Cycling Hurts the Recycling Industry

Wish-cycling wastes time and money. So much, in fact, that it poses a serious threat to the recycling industry. Consider this: your recyclables are all processed at a local materials recovery facility (MRF, pronounced murf). No two MRFs are the same. Each is outfitted with unique equipment and capabilities. That’s why communities have such varied waste management programs.

Introducing items that can’t be processed by your MRF can damage it, which means nothing gets recycled until the equipment’s up and running again. This is very expensive. It also happens much too frequently. When recycling becomes uneconomical, some local governments might think twice about doing it. By recycling right, we’re doing our part to keep it affordable.

By now, you’re probably wondering how you can put a stop to wish-cycling. Don’t worry, it’s easy. You can connect to your municipality’s website. Chances are, they’ll have an entire section devoted to their waste management program. There, you’ll find out exactly what your community accepts. Feel free to contact them, too. Or, you can download Recycle Coach and arm yourself with our What Goes Where? tool and make wish-cycling a thing of the past.