What is Wishcycling?
The portmanteau “wishcycling” refers to when people with good intentions throw non-recyclable items into a recycling bin, wishing for them to be recycled. This aspirational behavior can backfire, contaminating actual recyclables and resulting in more items going to a landfill than otherwise would. Furthermore, the presence of non-recyclable items can pose hazards to workers or stall all recycling activity in a materials recovery facility (MRF), where the items are being processed.
Examples of commonly wishcycled items include:
- Used containers from food and beverages, with residue (e.g., pizza boxes, coffee cups)
- Shredded paper (depending on location; sometimes acceptable in bags)
- Styrofoam (recycling programs are rare)
- Medical waste (e.g., needles)
What About Biodegradable Products?
Similarly, well-intentioned individuals and organizations buy products that are labeled as biodegradable but that may truly behave like petroleum-based plastics and end up in places (e.g., beaches, ocean) where they do not break down. We could coin a term for these products: “wishdegradable.” Exceptions are nuanced; for example, some items are compostable at industrial composting facilities, although curbside collection in many communities does not include industrial composting.
Examples of common wishdegradable items include:
How Can Your Brand Avoid Wishcycling Issues?
Below are some examples of how you can help to ensure that your organization steers people away from wishcycling and wishdegrading:
- On labels and packaging, use clear instructions for how consumers should dispose of it (e.g., How2Recycle), instead of making broad claims about recyclability or biodegradability
- Tailor your labels, materials, and practices to the countries and regions your brand serves, acknowledging that the local guidelines for recycling and composting differ
- Where feasible, discourage or ban single-use plastic products, to bypass any confusion about how to dispose of them
- Promote a circular economy through take-back/reuse programs