Back to Blog

Help put a stop to wish-cycling

September 16, 2019

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 CFL light bulb, or a plastic bag from your local supermarket, 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.

Have ideas you want to pitch or want to write for Recycle Coach? Email us at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Blog

Want to learn more? You may also like...

How to enjoy summer post-coronavirus quarantine responsibly, safely while being eco-friendly

May 20, 2020

With the novel coronavirus prompting quarantine and restrictions across the globe, it can feel like we skipped a whole season as we sheltered in place. Alas, (in the northern hemisphere anyway) summer is here! Arriving on the other side of…

Back to School with Zero Waste: Simple Tips for an Eco-Friendly Year

September 11, 2020

From lunch boxes filled with wrappers to backpacks overflowing with paper, back to school isn’t just hard for our kids, it can also have a negative impact on our planet. Luckily, embracing zero waste can make this school year a…