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When Wishcycling is a Waste


Wishcycling, simply put, is wanting something to be recyclable so badly that you choose to toss it in the recycling bin, even if it isn’t, in fact, recyclable. Wishcycling is something that all of us who have access to recycling have done at some point. Here are some common consequences of wishcycling:

  1. Incorrectly portraying which materials can be appropriately recycled, leading to an increase in community-wide wishcycling.

  2. Clogging up the recycling system with items that must be filtered out, resulting in machine damage and delays.

  3. Danger for employees working at recycling facilities as they attempt to quickly remove non-recyclables from a moving conveyor belt of materials.

To make sure you’re not wishcycling, you can educate yourself about your city’s recycling abilities and policies. Can only certain plastics be recycled? Do you need to separate your recyclables by material, or do you have a single-stream option? In Denver, plastics 1 through 7 are recyclable, but plastic bags and cling wrap can never be recycled in the same process. Most local grocery stores have free plastic bag recycling drop-off boxes for these softer plastics. Some other often-wishcycled items include unlabeled plastics, plastic-lined cardboard, packing tape, wrappers, and garden hoses (this last one still baffles me).


Wishcycling may seem like you’re doing the right thing because “at least there’s a chance” of recycling. However, in reality, it creates considerably more problems for our recycling facilities and can lead to injuries, machine malfunctions, and even items that are recyclable not being processed correctly. Trying to determine whether an item is recyclable? Conduct a simple Google search or look on the surface of the item for the little number in the recycle symbol for an indication that it’s recycle-friendly. You can even look for independent hard-to-recycle facilities that collect more obscure items for recycling. Next time you are unsure whether an item is truly recyclable after some research, you can rely on the phrase “when in doubt, throw it out.” By using your trash can when you’re just not sure, you’ll keep our recycling facilities working efficiently, and even keep your community members safe from harm.