Recycling might be your first step towards a Zero Waste / low impact lifestyle, but hopefully this step will not be the last. Nevertheless, it is super important to do your recycling right and avoid wish-cycling.
Disclaimer: This article is based on a post originally published on Celia’s blog Zero Waste Adventures.
What is wish-cycling?
Putting questionable item, you want to dispose, in your recycling bin in the hope that it will get recycled.
View this post on Instagram
Are you also guilty of wish-cycling? When you are not sure about a questionable item if you can put into the recycling bins or not, but you put anyway with a hope that it gets recycled after all... Coffee cups are not recycled in Ireland so they should not be thrown into the recycling bins. Just for the note, I found this coffee cups in a recycling bin, fished out and disposed according to the Irish recycling list into a general bin. Plastic bags are also another big misconceptions. (They should go to the general bins) Take 10-15 minutes to educate yourself what your recycling facility does actaully recycle and follow their suggestions. Each facility can be different! #wishcycling #zerowasteadventures #recyclinglistirl #recycling #zerowastejourney #ditchthedisposables
Why do we wish-cycle?
We all have seen the videos and photos on social media on in the news of sea turtles with a plastic six-pack holders around their body or a seahorse holding a 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 landfill or the oceans. You do not want to be responsible for another animal’s suffering or death. So you throw your disposable in the recycling bin with your best intention 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, and even different facilities have different recycling lists.
Unfortunately, a label on the product saying “RECYCLABLE” does not automatically mean that if you throw it into a recycling bin that it actually gets recycled. Maybe at the facility where your rubbish will end up they do not have the machines or capacity to deal with that specific type of waste. Did you know, that Tetra Paks are not recycled in Ireland, but sent for incineration.
Also, your single-use coffee cups won’t get recycled in Ireland with the current recycling facilities, but still thousands of people toss their disposable coffee cups into the recycling bin every day.
Thin plastic film is a more general and global example for wish-cycling. Grocery, ziplock, bread and newspaper bags can become tangled around the machines and causing break downs. They can be recycled, but usually not together with rigid plastics. There are places in the U.S. and in New Zealand where you can drop off your clean 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, we 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.
E.g., when you are trying to avoid plastic when buying your milk in tetra-paks it turns out that the rigid plastic bottles actually do get recycled and tetra paks are sent for incineration.
If you are in Ireland, check out this informative and up-to-date website Recycling List Ireland 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!!!
View this post on Instagram
When you can not refuse, reduce or reuse you need to recycle! Here is a short list on what is actually recycled in Ireland. Recycle smart! More information on www.recyclinglistireland.ie #recyclinglistirl #recycling #zerowaste #zerowasteireland #binsorted #sustainableliving #recyclableplastic #zerowasteadventures
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!