Updated: Apr 23
Do you put items into recycling bins in the hopes it can be recycled? (but don't really know)
Or maybe just items you're a little unsure of, but decide to pop it in your recycling bin anyway?
Then you are wish-cycling!
We've all done it, but there are lots of great reasons to put a stop to your wishcycing and be a little more thoughtful (and a little less aspirational).
Recycling items makes us feel good, because it's green right?
Well, recycling isn't exactly the solution to saving the planet BUT it does help re-purpose resources and keep them out of landfill.
Wish-cycling comes from good intentions but actually causes a lot of issues.
What's the Problem With Wish-cycling?
When we put the wrong items into our kerbside recycle bins we are actually contaminating the recycling stream.
Because those items head to a sorting facility, usually with a mix of humans, machines and robots that will attempt to remove the trash and separate true recyclables.
Recyclables are bundled together and then become part of a waste to resources loop instead of landfill.
Metal, plastics, glass and paper products are a commodity, like grain, and are sold within the recycling industry.
Contamination through wish-cycling reduces both the monetary value AND usability.
Contaminated Recycling impacts include;
> Recyclables end up going to landfill
>Damage to equipment at recycling plants
> Makes it harder for local recycling businesses to stay profitable
> Increases costs to create recycled products
> Rejected recycling being shipped back from other countries
>Slows down recycling processes
> Creates hazards for workers
>Reduces quality and usability of recycled products
What Happens to Contaminated Recycling?
Well, you are probably already aware china refuses to accept recyclables and countries around the world are still dealing with the impact.
This is because the contamination rates were so high, making it too much effort to sort and reclaim materials. Instead, China prefers to continue to make new plastics because it is more cost-effective than recycled plastics.
More recently, Indonesia rejected container loads of recycling from Australia when it landed in their port.
It's not the first time and the latest 100 shipping containers of rejected recycling are currently being shipped back to Australia.
Total number = 547 containers shipped back!
Not only has this generated extra pollution but those materials need to go somewhere. (I hope not to landfill!).
Common Items that Contaminate Recycling
There are so many things that can mess up recycle bins but here are some of the most common items.
They are easy to avoid and the good news is that you can stop doing it straight away.
>Plastic Bags & Soft Plastics
Plastic bags, food packets, lolly wrappers and more cannot be recycled via mainstream collections. Instead, collect them and drop them off at your local Coles or Woolworths RedCycle bin.
Never place recyclables into a plastic bag in your bin, they should just go in as they are.
(Same goes for landfill - let's stop unnecessary single-use plastics)
>Broken Glass & Crockery
I have certainly wish-cycled broken dishes and cups, believing that they must be recyclable. Well, they aren't for a few reasons. Firstly, they are in small pieces and secondly much of it is tempered (to cope with heat and cold).
This changes physical qualities and allows us to use a Pyrex dish in the oven, but unfortunately means if we break it, it must head to landfill.
Keep out light globes, fluorescent tubes too and take these to a local drop off service instead.
>Pizza boxes, Paper towels and Shredded Paper
Cardboard and paper is recyclable, but not when it's covered in left over pizza grease, food waste or other gunk.
Shredded paper is often another reject item and you can imaging the potential mess it creates in a sorting facility.
Remember, just because something is made from paper, doesn't mean it can be recycled.
Instead, check if you can place these into your green organics bin.
>Plastic Disposable Party Ware
Technically, plastic plates, cups and cutlery can be recycled however there are some rules.
Remove all food waste and liquids first.
Always confirm with your waste provider if plastic cutlery is okay to go in (due to the size and shape it can cause havoc in some facilities)
Did You Know.....Most plastic cutlery can actually be put in the dishwasher and reused for years?
The same goes for thicker disposable plastic plates.
Just because it was designed to throw away doesn't mean we have to accept it.
Dirty nappies are super common in council recycle bins (gross right! especially for the people working at the collection point!)
This is perhaps not so much wish-cycling..... I find it pretty hard to believe people think they are recyclable.
So why does that happen? Probably because their general waste bin is so overloaded with other trash and they are desperately trying to cope with the amount of rubbish their household produces.
If you do spot your neighbours doing this, why not offer up some of your trash space? It will keep it out of landfill AND prevent their trash contaminating your own recyclables.
Televisions, Computers, CDs and appliances can all be recycled right?
Yes! BUT not in your recycle bin please.
They do contain metal, plastics and materials that can be salvaged and can also be very valuable.
E-waste needs to be taken to an e-waste recycling centre by you. It's not hard, just collect your items in a box and plan a yearly drop off.
Check with your local council if they can deal with e-waste in hard refuse pick-ups.
(My local council offers 4 free hard waste pick-ups and includes e-waste which is collected by a separate vehicle and taken to the right place)
When I did a tour of my local recycling plant, I was surprised to see that plastic bottles with lids ON had to be manually removed (and liquids tipped out)
What a job that is!
❌ Never leave liquids in bottles for recycling
✔ Do check if lids should be left on or off
If you can leave lids on where you live, you may have to squash the bottle first.
Image from www.visy.com.au/
Ways You Can Avoid Wish-Cycling
✔ Check if it is REALLY Recyclable
Don't guess! Actually get to know the facts on what is and isn't accepted in your local recycling. The quickest way to do this is checking your local council website.
South Australia has recently created a Which Bin Site and ad campaign to make it easier to figure out.
✔ Ask Questions
Recycling guidelines are just that - a guide. For specific items contact your council or waste provider and find out what the right thing to do is.
✔ Read Labels
Packaging is making progress and often features recycling labels.
Read them, but don't take them as gospel as these are also a guide.
✔ Tour Your Local recycling Facilities
Doing a tour is a great way to learn AND see where your recycling goes.
✔ Commit to drop-offs
Soft plastics, e-waste, batteries, light globes and more can be dropped off and kept out of the recycle bin.
✔ Teach your kids
Kids can be great recycle bin police. Get them involved and tell them the rules.
✔ If in doubt, check!
Don't wish it into recycling.
As I mentioned earlier, recycling isn't the solution, but let's make sure we DO IT BETTER (and avoid wish-cycling) so those materials don't head to landfill.
For a bigger impact, try taking the free War on Waste Challenge
(you'll find plenty of fun tips and tricks to reduce waste AND recycling at home )
And DO check out the Less Waste to Landfill October Facebook Event