Are You Wishcycling?

December 17, 2019
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“Wishcycling” happens when people put things in the recycling bin that they hope can be recycled. While this is done with the best intentions, these items often become contaminants when they reach the recycling center (called a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF). Here are the top items that are wrongly thrown in the recycling

  1. Plastic Film and Bags 
  2. “Tanglers” (ex. hoses, cords, rope) 
  3. Needles 
  4. Refuse (waste) 
  5. Propane Tanks 
  6. Textiles
  7. Scrap Metal 
  8. Food Waste
  9.  Hazardous Materials (diapers, batteries, medical waste)

What makes these items so troublesome? Wishcycled items endanger recycling programs by increasing their costs. In addition to being materials that a lot of MRFs generally don’t or can’t sell, some of these items run the risk of getting caught or “tangled” in the sorting equipment, which can cost recyclers time, energy and money to remove. Other items, such as food waste, can make items that are recyclable dirty, which makes them difficult to process and sell. All of these issues accrue expenses, which place addition pressure on recycling operations.

Right now, wishcycling is relatively common in American recycling. Some studies say that contamination levels in MRFs are up to 25% around the country. This seems to be because consumers are confused about recycling. Recent surveys show that 62-73% of respondents are worried they don’t know how to recycle properly. The results showed that these misunderstandings led to both wishcycling and recyclables thrown in the trash.

So what can you do? Get to know your local recycling programs and their “acceptable items” lists, as these are unique to each community. Start by taking a moment to visit the website of provider: this may be your local government or a private hauling company. They will be able to instruct you on what materials they accept. Then comes the difficult part: follow their rules. If there are items, like grocery bags, that you hate to throw away, try to find a specialized recycling program in your area. You can also reuse them or even change your habits to avoid using them in the first place.

The Recycling Partnership. “The 2017 Costs of Contamination MRF Working Group Survey”. Published 30 Sept. 2019. Accessed 16 Dec. 2019
The Recycling Partnership. “The Bridge to Circularity: Putting the New Plastics Economy into Practice in the U.S.”. Page 29. October 2019.
 Josh Ocampo,, “Americans Are Terrible at Recycling – This Is What Happens When You Put Something in the Wrong Bin,” August 2018: Accessed 16 Dec. 2019.
Survey summarized in “More than half of Americans are confused about recycling”, by Marie Haaland.>. Accessed 16 Dec. 2019.
The Recycling Partnership. “The Bridge to Circularity: Putting the New Plastics Economy into Practice in the U.S.”. Page 28. October 2019.
Howard, Brian Clark. “Five Recycling Myths Busted”. Published 31 October 2018. 16 Dec. 2019.

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