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Why ‘wishcycling’ can do more harm than good

The mantra ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry’ doesn’t necessarily apply to recycling. In-fact, putting something in the recycling bin without checking for the ubiquitous Mobius loop may do more harm than putting it in the regular trash.

We’ve all been there, stood between our recycling and rubbish bins shining an iPhone light on a wrapper to check for the Mobius logo. It’s our moral and civic duty, after all.

Pro-recycling messages from environmental outfits and corporations have become so commonplace today that throwing anything in the regular garbage instantly conjures a tinge of guilt in our subconscious.

In recent years, we’ve also become aware that categorising our recyclable trash doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it won’t end up in landfill or be burned. On the contrary, a staggering 91% of the Earth’s plastic doesn’t get recycled despite major economies employing these systems.

This has left the eco-conscious among us confused about exactly what to do with our throwaway packaging, and is the reason the question: ‘Can this be recycled?’ will be asked countless times throughout the globe today.

When unsure whether something can be recycled, you’d think that erring on the side of caution and throwing it in with the rest – an act known as ‘wishcycling’ – would be the best option.

According to those who know the ins and outs of the industry, however, this is a really damaging misconception.

Why wishcycling can do more harm than good

As Greenpeace’s ‘Downing Street Disaster’ campaign highlighted a few years back, our single throwaway items can quickly pile up and become a big problem… or crisis, if you’d prefer.

This is also the case when we contaminate the waste stream with rogue material that is not actually recyclable.

As it consolidates, this unwanted waste creates the need for more labour and makes the process of sorting through blue bags more expensive. Single use plastic bags in particular are described as something of a menace and often clog sorting systems and equipment.

Disposable coffee cups, ink cartridges, stryrofoam, and greasy takeaway boxes are among other big offenders for wishcycling, forcing recycling processors to send tons of would be useful material to landfill.

Facilities beset by this are routinely hit with a ‘contamination fee’ to make up for missing profits, and enough instances can even lead to communities shutting businesses down entirely.

Wishcycling, by nature, is usually an act of goodwill but puts too much trust in current recycling facilities. They’re not as efficient at sorting out junk as Gmail’s spam feature, unfortunately.

What’s recommended going forward?

Both huge waste management companies and city-wide businesses have launched education campaigns to bring awareness to the issue.

The common mantra is: ‘When in doubt, throw it out.’ In other words, only place material containing the Mobius logo in recycling bins. This message is one that’s probably hard for environmentalists to get on-board with, given nihilism is already rife regarding waste, yet it remains the only way to cut costs for companies actually doing good work.

There are lists of dos and don’ts when it comes to recycling (here’s some, if you’re interested) which can help to formulate some blanket rules. However, it’s important to note that the global waste crisis wasn’t created by consumers failing to wash out mayonnaise jars.

The biggest drivers are global, and they include (but aren’t limited to), pushing capitalistic consumption, little international waste trade incentives, a lack of standardised recycling policies globally, and the devaluation of used resources.

You can do your part by organising your own household, but governments hold all the power to enact real change. More products are now being designed with reuse and disposal in mind, but we’re still yet to see the level of investment needed to transform recycling infrastructures.

Hopefully, at a minimum, this has helped to make things a little less confusing this coming dinner time.