Wishcycling: good intentions gone awry

By: 
The Office of Campus Sustainability
Release Date: 
2/12/2019

What is wishcycling? This unusual term is popping up more often lately—and for good reason. Once you learn about it, you’ll want to kick this bad habit!

Know where to throw recycling education posterSay you’re about to dispose of something, such as your coffee cup, and you’re not sure where it should go—landfill or recycling?

You don’t want to be wasteful, so you put your cup in the recycling bin, hoping it’ll get recycled. Maybe, like many people, you assume the recycling facility will sort out your item if it wasn’t supposed to go there...but that’s not the case.

“Unfortunately, simply wishing for something to be recyclable doesn’t make it so,” Recycle Coach explains.

The irony is that wishcycling makes more waste. Though you probably have good intentions when you put an item you’re not sure about in the recycling, you may very well cause more harm than good.

If your item isn’t recyclable, it’s considered contamination...and contamination can cause an entire batch of recyclables to be rejected and end up in the landfill.  

As Recycle Coach puts in, “In other words, if many people try to recycle that one problematic thing, tons of properly recycled items can be landfilled. [This] runs completely counter to what recycling is all about.”

There’s a broader issue, too: wishcycling threatens the recycling industry by wasting time and money. Recyclables are processed at a local materials recovery facility (MRF). Incoming items that can’t be processed by the MRF can damage it, stalling all recycling activity until the equipment can be repaired. This is expensive and can make it hard to sell recycled materials to manufacturers at a competitive price (which, let’s not forget, is critical to making recycling work).

Okay, so what can I do?

By now, you’re probably wondering how you can avoid wishcycling. Don’t worry, it’s easy. Here at U-M, visit the recycling program’s website. Here, you’ll find out exactly what you can recycle on campus and how to do so. And feel free to email recycle.umich.edu with questions.