What is Wish-Cycling?

How many times have you looked at a finished tube of skincare or an empty takeaway container and thought, “Hm, this is probably recyclable...” before throwing it in your recycling bin? This is called “wish-cycling” - placing something in a recycling bin with the hopes it will be recycled.

Whilst wish-cycling might be a well-intentioned habit in an increasingly confusing world of recycling, it often does more harm than good and has consequences that impact global recycling as a whole.

The true cost of wish-cycling

Wish-cycling passes the issue of sorting and separation onto local councils which are already under pressure due to low oil prices and a huge amount of plastic waste. In fact, some South Asian countries are no longer taking recyclables from us.

Material that doesn’t fall into a specific category throws a proverbial spanner in the works. 

Early in the process, workers manually remove bulky items and other contaminants; things like car parts, bicycles, buckets, garden hoses, working smartphones and laptops. It’s been reported that once an actual German Enigma machine from World War II turned up!

This less than ideal situation—operations halting or slowing as workers remove incorrect items by hand (wish-cycled items, which get sent to landfill anyway)—is actually a best-case scenario, as incompatible items not removed here cause bigger problems down the line. For example, plastic bags can get wrapped around the cogs and clog up the machines, damaging equipment and endangering workers.

Ultimately, wish-cycling diminishes the quality of the recycled end-product. Even small amounts of contaminants can ruin an entire batch. Once this happens, it is unable to be processed, manufacturers don’t want to buy it, and recyclers are forced to send valuable material to landfills.

What can you do to recycle the right way?

  • Get familiar with the waste accepted by your local council.

You can help prevent this from happening in your area by understanding your area’s specific recycling guidelines. Even town to town accepted waste may differ so confirm what you can put in your recycling bin on your local government website. Print the guidelines out and keep them next to your recycling bin for easy reference.


  • Double-check before you throw them away.

Cardboard and paper are considered widely recyclable in the UK, but not when mixed with contaminants. If a pizza box covered in grease or other substances such as leftover food, is recycled with other paper products, these would contaminate the entire batch of paper. Instead, compost greasy pizza boxes to avoid sending good recyclables to landfills.

Cartons that contain foods like juice or soup are often made up of paperboard and a combination of foils and plastic, and while these are sometimes accepted for recycling, they can contaminate paper streams when recycled incorrectly. 

  • Don’t assume all plastics are accepted kerbside.

Plastic is plastic, right? Nope, and far from it! Most municipal recyclers accept #1 or #2 white or clear bottles or jars (with caps, pumps, and spouts removed), but any item with small and complex parts or colours and additives are generally not recyclable via kerbside.

Consider the plastic and Styrofoam (or EPS plastic #6) of takeaway containers. Respectively, This can technically be recycled but is passed over by the optical scanners at facilities because it doesn’t reflect light, and Styrofoam isn’t profitable to recycle because it’s mostly air, and often quite soiled by food.

For commonplace takeaway containers and flexible films you find on most items at the supermarket, the Plastic Packaging Zero Waste Box™  is a pretty good solution. Take it up a notch with our All-In-One Zero Waste Box™  for the peace of mind that you are effectively recycling everything—the opposite of wish-cycling!

Thanks for reading and let us know if you’d like any assistance with choosing the right Zero Waste Box™ solution! 

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1 comment

  • I have recently changed to using Lidl coffee pod capsules rather than Nespresso. The latter I recycled through the correct channels but the same option doesn’t seem available for the Lidl capsules. I would like to know my best recycling option in these

    Janine Gosling

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