Let’s Talk Trash: “Wish”cycling

You’re cleaning up after dinner and come across an empty bag of frozen veggies. You go to throw it away, but you stop just before tossing it in the bin. Is this recyclable? After all, it is plastic, you think to yourself. Now you’re torn—do you send it to the landfill, or do you cross your fingers and hope it’s recyclable? You opt for the latter, tossing it into your blue bag. You did the good thing, right?


“Wish”cycling refers to the act of recycling things that you aren’t 100% sure are actually recyclable. Even though you may have good intentions, “wish”cycling can actually be pretty detrimental.

A Snag in the Machine

After your blue bags are collected, they’re taken to a facility to be sorted and baled. But that non-recyclable material you mixed in with recycled goods can cause a snag in the machine—literally and figuratively. If sorted manually, removing the contaminated item will cost the facility labor (time and money). If sorted by mechanically, it’s possible that the contaminated item will clog the machine.

A Red Shirt in your White Laundry

If the non-recyclable item makes it past the sorting stage, it’ll be lumped into a bale of recyclable items. Bales of recycled materials are sold to other countries to be made into new products. Recently, some countries have raised their standards of what they accept; some countries allow just 0.5% contamination. This means that if more than 0.5% of a bale of recycled materials is contaminated, the entire bale will be denied. So those single non-recyclable items that are wishfully recycled? They’re like the red shirt that turns your entire load of white laundry pink.

So when you come across a material you’re not sure is recyclable, it’s better to just toss it in the regular trash. Commonly “wish”cycled items include soiled paper plates and napkins, potato chip bags, K-cups, and various forms of plastic bags. (That frozen vegetable bag mentioned earlier? Not recyclable.)

Wanting a more definitive answer on whether a certain material or item can be recycled? Submit your questions or topic suggestions in the form below to be covered in a future blog post.