What is Wishcyclying? Am I recycling incorrectly?

Wishcycling. One of the worst things we could do for our recycling systems. But why? What is wishcycling? We will answer all that in more in this post.

When starting to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, recycling is one of the easiest, most accessible things we can do. People feel better knowing their waste isn't going to end up in the landfill, or so they think. Wishcycling is putting things you think are recyclable in your recycling bin in the hopes that they will be accepted and not dumped instead.

What can I recycle?

The thing is, people truly don't know what is and is not recyclable, we aren't taught very well about these systems. That is why I've made a full recycling playlist for you guys on my YouTube channel, check it out here.

But the stand-out videos I think you NEED to watch are:

- 100 things you CAN'T recycle in curbside recycling

- 45 more things you CANNOT recycle curbside

- 100 things you surprisingly CAN recycle but have to use special programs for

- Everything you need to know about TerraCycle

- The importance of recycling

What wishcycling all boils down to is consumers thinking that everything can be recycled curbside. And while that isn't technically wrong, not everything can be accepted curbside. Everything does have the potential to be recycled in some capacity. It really just depends if there is a market for that material.

Let's get some things straight first. What can you recycle? It all depends upon where you live so contact your local recycling facility. Their contact info should be on your blue bin or you can look up "city + recycling center" for your area. But, generally speaking, plastics #1 and #2 are widely accepted as well as paper, cardboard, metal, and glass. But there are still stipulations, and recycling rules you need to follow.

Again, this is all generally speaking as all areas differ, but for the most part, your recycling has to be clean and dry. That means so crusty bottles of pasta sauce, no half drank milk gallon jugs and no greasy pizza boxes. Also, bottle caps (metal and plastic) can't be recycled or their labels, remove them as best as you can. I know, some are super stuck on there, so don't stress it too much, especially with glass, it can be melted off. Again, go check out the videos I already mentioned above for more info and always contact your local recycling facility for more information.

But why is wishcycling harmful?

Wishcycling boils down to recycling incorrectly. It ultimately creates more contaminated waste. Think about that half-empty tub of yogurt you may have chucked in your bin. Now your chickpea cans, pickle jars, and water bottles are also covered in yogurt rendering them useless to be recycled. It might even get so bad that an entire bag or an entire truckload could be sent to the landfill instead due to incorrectly recycling.

This doesn't just go for contamination, though, but also small objects. They have the potential to clog the machines. Things like staples, small pieces of paper, scraps of tin foil, and so forth. Now, they can be recycled if they are still attached to the larger item. For example, a tin can with a lid can be recycled with scraps of metal inside.

Here are the current recycling rates in the US:

- Paper/cardboard was 68.2% of total produced in 2018

- Glass was about 31% of total produced in 2018

- Plastic was 8.7% of the total produced in 2018

- Metal was about 60% of total produced in 2018

While these numbers aren't bad, that means a lot of it is still getting landfilled. Why? Probably several reasons, but increasing our recycling education and recycling properly as a consumer certainly wouldn't hurt. Imagine if we all recycled 100% correctly how much higher those rates could be.

What do I do with all the items I used to "recycle"?

There are many specialty recycling programs out there for proper recycling of odds and ends like mattresses, TVs and other electronics, batteries, light bulbs, paints, and more. Check out my 100 surprising things you can actually recycle video to learn more about these programs and also the video about TerraCycle to learn more about them and check out their website.

What can I do?

Stop wishcycling! Learn how to recycle properly for your region. Emphasis on that last bit. I could tell you all about recycling correctly but it ultimately could be wrong for how your town, state, or country recycles.

But ultimately, learn what you can and can't recycle and understand that not everything can be accepted. Your recycling bin isn't a second trash can. They are separate for a reason.

Don't put something in your blue bin just cause you feel bad about sending it to the landfill. Remember, someone has to sort this by hand or unclog the machines that do it AND your dirty items could make your entire bag or bin of recycling go to the landfill instead of just one item.

At the end of the day, this is what it boils down to:

1. Make sure your recycling is clean and dry (free from dirt, paint, food, etc)

2. Know which types of plastics are accepted in your area. Plastic comes in 7 types, but generally, only 1, 2, or 3 are accepted. If you want me to dive further into the types of plastics, let me know below!

3. If your municipality requires you to separate your recycling by material, do it! When I lived in Japan, it was mandatory. One bag each for paper/cardboard, metal, glass, plastics, and burnables AKA trash. But now, in Las Vegas, it is single-stream recycling AKA everything goes in one bin, and then it is sorted. Know which method your area uses.

4. When in doubt, throw it out, or call your local recycling center

Thank you so much for reading along, I hope you learned something and found this valuable. If you did, pleaseeeee share this with others! I don't say that for fame or anything, I say that because recycling education is SO important and this is the first step. As we already talked about, the better we recycle, the better our recycling rates become, the less we have to send to our already crowded landfill, and the fewer new materials we have to use (AKA fewer trees being cut down, less steel being mined and made, and less oil is extracted).

Thanks again and as always, remember that your small actions have a big impact in the long run :)


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My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...


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