Why we need to stop plastic ‘wishcycling’

We have to face facts… 

>> Recycling bins are not a magical place of rebirth for any old grimy rubbish. 

>> No one at the local recycling centre has the superpower of transforming non-recyclables into reusable materials.

Much as we admire the hard work that goes on at recycling facilities across the country, recycling teams aren’t miracle workers. But that’s how we treat them. 

We have to break the ‘wishcycling’ habit

‘Wishcycling’ is the bad habit of putting items in the recycling bin even if we’re not sure whether they can be recycled or not. We mentally cross our fingers, imagining that someone at the recycling centre will spot any error and sort it out. 

In reality, the teams at the recycling plant are using huge machines to sort tonnes of recyclables a day. They don’t have time to sift through by hand, so often our ‘wishcycling’ items will end up in a batch of recycling. And when that happens? 

Imagine putting a ball of used clingfilm into the recycling bin. We’re not 100% that it can be recycled, but we’d rather try recycling it than throw it away: 

>> ‘Wishcycling’ that ball of screwed-up cling film ends up jamming the sorting machine. 

>> The greasy plastic film contaminates a whole batch of actual recyclables, which have to be chucked.  

>> Hours of taxpayer-funded processing time is lost while the engineer peels little bits of cling film from the guts of the machine.  

The moral of the story? We have to be certain that what we’re recycling CAN be recycled, otherwise we’re doing more harm than good. 

6 ways to stop ‘wishcycling’

1. Keep a note of what you can and can’t recycle

To find out which materials are accepted for recycling in your area: 

>> Check the ‘Nearby Recycling’ tab in the ‘My account settings’ section of your Greenredeem account page.

>> Check the recycling section of your council’s website. 

2. Make sure you’re separating materials correctly

Different local authorities have different recycling guidelines, so we can’t be specific here. But it’s important that we all know how to separate our recycling to avoid contamination. 

Examples can include putting dead batteries into a separate container, or leaving bottles of used cooking oil beside the box, instead of inside. Check your council’s website for details of how to separate your recycling. 

3. Put a recycling reminder in your calendar

Missing a collection can lead to your recycling box languishing outside for longer than necessary. We’ve found that this encourages passers-by to chuck non-recyclable rubbish into it. (Grrr!)

Keep up with the programme by setting an alert in your calendar app or adding a regular reminder to your diary. 

Close up of a piece of polystyrene, showing the triangle symbol. In the triangle is the number 6, and written beneath the triangle are the letters PS.

4. Check plastic recycling symbols

Not all plastics are equal – and in many places, the recycling centres are able to deal with certain plastics but not others. One way to be sure that your recycling isn’t just wishful thinking is to check the number moulded into the bottom of plastic packaging. 

Be aware that a piece of packaging might be made of several types of plastic. For instance, a bottle may be a 1, while its top may be a locally non-recyclable 6.

Here’s an excellent guide to plastic recycling numbers.

5. Be kind to recycling workers

Real people have to transport, process and grade our recycling materials, and mouldy food bits or an unexpected sharp object can give them a really bad day. 

>> Rinse out containers before recycling. 

>> Keep broken glasses, razor blades and other sharp objects out of your recycling box. If they’re recyclable, stow them carefully until you can get to a recycling centre. Non-recyclables should be wrapped in cardboard or another tough container and put in your general waste collection. 

6. Look for alternative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle

If your community’s recycling collection doesn’t handle certain materials, look for alternatives. For example, you could:

>> Stop buying products made from or packaged in non-recyclable materials. Choose plain, easily recycled glass, card and metal instead.

>> Reuse the packaging instead of recycling it. For starters, discover 10 ways to reuse polystyrene

>> Drop off difficult to recycle items at specialist recycling boxes, such as those managed by TerraCycle. They currently accept packaging from Ella’s Kitchen, ACUVUE contact lenses, big brand air-fresheners and laundry care, bread bags, Burt’s Bees, Carex, Colgate, foil wrappers from crisps and sweets, coffee pods… along with packaging from dozens more products.  

Had you heard of ‘wishcycling’ before? Do you avoid products made from or packaged in non-recyclable materials? Share your thoughts and tips with the Greenredeem team on Facebook and Twitter

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