Why Wish-Cycling is an Issue

Wish-cycling is the process of throwing questionable items into the recycling bin, under the assumption that they’ll be properly sorted and recycled by a recycling facility. It’s kinda like tossing that greasy pizza box into the recycling bin; you’re not too sure it’s clean enough to be recycled, but what harm can it do? Well, more than you might think—wish-cycling can actually produce more waste

Here’s why these wishes aren’t coming true: 

Contamination. Tricky items, such as greasy take-out containers, can contaminate the rest of the recyclables in a bin. When the other recyclable contents are contaminated, they become non-recyclable and end up in a landfill (where the items may take hundreds of years to decompose). Other examples of bin contamination include containers for paint, automotive fluids, or pesticides. Want to learn more about how to properly dispose of different materials? Click here.


cans of paint for recycling

The average recycling contamination rate is 25%, or 1 in 4 items (EPA, 2018)


Damaging Equipment. Wish-cycling can damage the expensive equipment used at your local Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Plastic bags or bubble wrap (among a long list of other items) may seem like things you can recycle but actually can’t. The thin material often damages the equipment and postpones the recycling process completely—halting other items from being recycled until the machine recovers.  

Solutions (That Don’t Require Any Wishing) 

recycling is more complex than meets the eye

EPR laws shift obligations and costs from the public sector to the manufacturers


Your Local Municipality’s Website. After finding your local municipality’s website (search “name of city” + “municipality” + “recycling”), you’re sure to find tons of helpful information regarding recycling. Here are some examples of what you may find: 

  • A search bar where you can check if a specific item can be recycled 
  • How to recycle “tricky” items (locations of drop-off centers)
  • What condition certain items must be in to be recycled
  • Tips on how to reuse items that cannot be recycled

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This is a more effective solution that saves consumers’ time and holds manufacturers accountable (now that’s what we like to hear). Extended Producer Responsibility laws shift obligations and costs from the public sector to the manufacturers. Since the manufacturers are producing the waste, they will be considered responsible for creating the markets/infrastructure for recycling facilities; or else manufacturers producing said items are restricted from making the products altogether. This also means that the producers would have to pay more for packaging that is difficult to recycle.

According to Time magazine, “The U.S. is one of the only developed countries without EPR bills addressing packaging” (Time, 2020). Our take? It’s time for  change—and thankfully, it looks like it just might. A New York State Senate Bill establishing Extended Producer Responsibility is currently being introduced on the floor to New York State Senate and Assembly committees (whoo-hoo!!). 

While this may have felt like an overwhelming read, there are solid solutions that are far more viable than just hopeful wishes. It all starts with educating one another and holding producers accountable. We’re finally seeing some progress!

What are some things you’ve accidentally wish-cycled? Leave a comment down below!


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Article by Impact Snacks Contributor, Ava Tajally

Tags: change, plastic

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