A greasy pizza box, an empty pill pack, a takeaway coffee cup, a plastic yogurt container. Asking whether you can recycle these items is good. Knowing the answer before you make that decision is crucial.
In this blog post, we’re looking at wishcycling. You may or may not have heard of it, but most of us have done it. We’ve thrown an item into recycling, not sure whether it is actually recyclable at your local recycling facility. If we’ve made a mistake, someone will fix it. No problem. Except it’s a huge problem in waste management. Let’s look at how to solve it. But first.
How Wishcycling Effects Recycling
Recycling is a system designed to process valuable materials (waste) and give them new life. Material is collected and either sorted by hand or machine, depending on where you live. If there are items that can’t be recycled easily (like dirty food containers), they have the potential to contaminate all materials in that batch.
Similarly, if an item like a garden hose pipe (or fairy lights, for example) gets tossed into the recycling bin, that item could get tangled up in the machinery used to sort materials, causing it to break. Not only would this cost a lot of money to fix, but it would waste a lot of time and manpower, and temporarily prevent other items from being recycled.
How to Stop Wishcycling
Whether you’re a manufacturer that creates products that eventually turn into waste, a retailer that sells products that eventually turn into waste, or a consumer who buys those products, it’s important to know what can and can’t be recycled using curbside bins.
As retailer, you can educate your customers using in-store signage and social media. Not only would this help spread awareness on what can and can’t be recycled, but it would also shine a light on your internal recycling commitments.
3 Ways You Can Avoid Wishcycling
1. Know What Your Local Recycling Facility Can and Can’t Recycle
Check your local government’s website and confirm the specific recycling guidelines where you live (they vary from place to place). Print these guidelines and stick them on your fridge for easy reference.
2. Check Before You Throw
If a pizza box covered in grease or food residue is recycled with other paper products, it’ll contaminate the entire batch of paper. To avoid this, you could cut away the greasy bits and throw them into your regular bin and recycle the clean parts of the box.
Packaging with multiple layers and materials are also a problem. Think about your empty pill packs. They’re often made up of multiple material types (a combination of foil and plastic), which makes them difficult to detect by machines. If by chance they are detected, they are also difficult to separate well enough to be allocated to the correct material stream. Again, check your local recycling guidelines.
3. Check Your Plastics
Most municipal recycling facilities accept Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET plastic (soda or water bottles and plastic jars) and High-Density Polyethylene, or HDPE plastic (washing detergent and shampoo bottles), but any item with complex parts, colors, and additives are generally not recyclable using curbside bins. Think about black plastic takeout containers. Black plastic can be recycled, but when sorted using machinery, they are passed over by the scanners because they don’t reflect light. Again, always check before you throw.
Wishcycling is a problem that’s easy to solve. As a retailer, you can educate your customers, providing them with the information they need to recycle their waste properly. As a consumer, you can educate yourself by making sure you know what your local recycling facility can and can’t recycle.
So, what’s yours? That one item you thought you could recycle but later found out wasn’t recyclable. Recycling can feel complicated sometimes. Let's help each other figure it out!