What is Wishcycling? How To Avoid Hopeful Recycling.

What you need to know: Wishcycling is a phenomenon where we hope that items are recyclable and thus place un-recyclable items into the recycling bin, contaminating the otherwise clean and recyclable items. 

How to Avoid Wishcycling

Common wishcycling culprits include:

  • dirty pizza boxes, and;
  • loose plastic bags (you know, the kind you bag recycling in)

The Economic Effect of Wishcycling 

Wishcycling and the subsequent collection of non-recyclable items places an unnecessary strain on respective communities recycling efforts. This is because non-recyclable items such as pizza boxes, plastic bags, and dirty food containers contaminate otherwise recyclable materials. 

On average, the rate of recycling contamination is about 25%. This means that for every 4,000 pounds of collected materials, 1,000 pounds are re-routed and discarded into landfills. The removal and transportation of non-recyclable materials is counterproductive, leading to greater economic and environmental costs. 

Recycling Is A Business

To put this issue in context, it’s helpful to look at recycling as a business: Communities collect recyclable goods, then they are sorted and sold to companies who pay for the materials and recycle them.

The recycled material is then sold to other companies to create goods from.

Thus, materials are only recycled when they replace virgin materials – not when they’re collected. In other words, it’s only when recycled materials replace virgin materials that we realize the environmental and economic benefits of recycling.

How To Avoid Wishcycling: 

In order to avoid wishful recycling, you can follow the three rules of recycling

The Three Rules of Recycling: 

  • Recycle clean bottles, cans, paper and cardboard.
  • Keep food and liquid out of your recycling.
  • No loose plastic bags and no bagged recyclables: plastic bags can shut down entire recycling plants. To avoid this, empty recyclables directly into the collection bin, and do not bag your recyclable items. 

You can learn more about what to recycle and what not to recycle by visiting your city or county’s website. 

The Impact of Wishcycling on Recycling Markets

In the last decade, wishcycling and the resulting high contamination levels led to the imposition of new contamination limits by one of the biggest buyers of United States recycling: China. China once bought the majority of the United States collected materials. But due to China’s new contamination limit -requiring local processors to shrink contamination to 0.5%- the United States, (whose average contamination rate is 25%), has since lost access to the Chinese recycling market. 

The takeaway: recycling markets are at risk due to high contamination levels. As a consumer, you have the power to avoid wish cycling, educate your friends and family, and reduce contamination levels in your community – hopefully leading to a stronger market for your recycled materials.

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