Celia's Adventures
in research, zero waste living and discovering the world

Recycling vs. Wish-cycling

Hey hey!

Recycling might be your really first step towards to a zero waste / low waste lifestyle, but hopefully this step will not be the last. Nevertheless, it is super important to do your recycling right and avoid wish-cycling.

What is wish-cycling?

Putting questionable item, you want to dispose, in your recycling bin in the hope that it will get recycled.

Why do we wish-cycle?

We have all been seeing videos and photos on social media on in the news of eg., a sea turtle with a plastic straw its nostril or a seahorse holding a plastic cotton swab or a beautiful bird tangled into a plastic bag. We felt touched when David Attenborough had urged all of us in Blue Planet II to take action on our worldwide plastic pollution.

So you are standing there at the front of the bins, feeling confused… is this recyclable? You wish to cut back on your waste ending up in the landfills or in the oceans. You do not want to be responsible for another animal’s suffering or death. So you throw your item in the recycling bin with your best intention and with the hope that your questionable item gets recycled or if not they will select out.

You walk away and you feel good. You recycled.

Here it is important to mention the difference between recyclable and being recycled.

Recyclable vs. being recycled

In theory, everything could be recycled. But it is not always worth economically to go through a complex recycling process, so basically recycling facilities select things that makes sense economically to be recycled.

Different countries have different rules, even different facilities have different recycling lists.

Unfortunately, a label on the product RECYCLABLE does not mean if you throw that to a recycling bin it gets recycled. Maybe at the facility where your rubbish will end up they do not have the instrumentation or capacity to deal with that type of waste.

For example, no coffee cups get recycled in Ireland with the current recycling facilities, but still thousands of people daily toss their disposable coffee cups into recycling bins.

Thin plastic film is a more general and global example for wish-cycling. Grocery, ziplock, bread and newspaper bags can tangled around the machines and causing break downs. They can be recycled, but usually not together with rigid plastics. I have heard about places in the U.S. and in New Zealand where you can drop off your cleam soft plastic for recycling.

Why is wish-cycling dangerous?

Wish-cycling poses a serious problem for the recycling industry.

Wish-cycled items can degrade the value of the other recyclable materials in the batch. Food contaminated items, like greasy pizza box can contaminate other recyclable waste and the whole batch can end up in landfills. Other problem was mentioned earlier, soft plastics can tangled around the machines other small pieces can jammed up in machines forcing temporary shut downs. This shut downs means lost in time and profit. It does not sound that cool right?!

What to do to avoid wish-cycling?

First of all, I encourage you to do your own research, educate yourself and try to understand your local recycling system, if it is necessary contact your local facilities and ask for an up-to-date list.

An example, I was trying to avoid plastic so I thought if I buy my milk in tetra-pack I do good, but it turned out that where I live rigid plastic bottles get recycled easier than tetra-packs. So at the rare occasions when I buy milk I go for the rigid plastic bottles.

If you are in Ireland, check out this informative and up-to-date website on the current recycling list in Ireland. You can even apply for a free recycling workshop for your neighbourhood or workplace by one of the recycling ambassadors of VOICE Ireland. They are also super active in answering questions on their facebook page.

Here in Ireland the three - and plus one - main rules: CLEAN, DRY, LOOSE and NO SOFT PLASTIC!!!

What to do beyond recycling?

You should recycle, but that should not be your ultimate aim and definitely do not stop there.

Plastic does not magically disappear at the end… maybe your plastic bottle will come back in the form of a fleece but that fleece at the end will break down into micro plastics causing an even bigger problem…

Do not forget first refuse what you do not need, reduce what you need and reuse what you have already!

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