Don’t be a Wishcycler

When ‘recycling’ too much actually does more harm than good

I learned a new word recently: ‘wishcycling’.  It’s the practice of putting questionable things into the recycling bin in the hopes that they are recyclable and will be recycled.

Guilty.  We work really hard in our home to limit the amount of trash we generate.  That means when we come across things we’re not 100% sure about – things that might be, could be or should be recyclable – we lean toward putting them into the recycle bin just in case.

Except, as I’ve now learned, we may be doing more harm than good when we do that.  If something that isn’t recyclable is put into the recycling bin, it may well become a contaminant that ruins a whole load of recyclables and causes everything to end up in the landfill.  The same goes for something that is a mishmash of several different materials that might be recyclable on their own – think of a hot chocolate container, which is a combination of metal, cardboard and even plastic.  Or dirty materials like greasy pizza boxes or unrinsed cans.

So what to do?

First, think of ways to Reduce, the first and most important of the three Rs.  You never have to worry about whether something is recyclable if you don’t buy it in the first place.

Secondly, educate yourself on what’s recyclable in your area by contacting your local recycling hotline or solid waste commission.  Most will offer guidance on their websites too.  (And here’s a good primer on recycling symbols.)  Then strive to follow those guidelines – even if it hurts the hard-core recycler within.

Third, why not awaken your inner activist and do what you can to create positive change?  If local recycling guidelines aren’t clear or well publicized, why not petition for more clarity and promotion?  If a company’s packaging isn’t very recyclable or isn’t well labelled as to its recyclability, why not call their consumer hotline to ask them to improve? We definitely plan to keep recycling everything we can in our family – but now that we know about wishcycling, we’ll strive to avoid doing that from now on.

In the news:

Amazing: 10-year-old Maya was so bothered by those plastic price lookup (PLU) stickers on produce she decided to launch a simple, creative campaign to do something about it – check it out (and join it) here!

Wow: Three Corners Solar Project, under construction next door in Maine, will generate 152 MW when complete – enough to power 30,000 homes! From imagination to reality: these smart windows tint automatically, reduce the need for heating and air conditioning!


It was the most poetic, beautiful scene I’d ever seen, but it was also haunting and scary.”

-Photographer Paul Nicklen, of his landmark photo of a melting glacier in Svalbard, Norway

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