Every month, thousands of people all over the UK try to avoid ‘wishcycling’ – but wind up doing it anyway. In fact, 84% of households contaminate their recycling due to wishcycling – the act of recycling something we shouldn’t, when we’re not entirely sure what can or should be recycled.
With instances of recycling contamination on the rise, and some parts of the country making it harder than others to recycle different goods and packaging, experts at used cardboard box suppliers Sadlers have taken a look at the items that cause the most confusion.
Each month, thousands of people in the UK and worldwide search for answers to queries including questions like ‘can I recycle’ and ‘can you recycle’, with the UK most confused about polystyrene (3620 monthly searches) bubble wrap (1370 monthly searches) and blister packs (1130 monthly searches).
Wishcycling doesn’t just refer to being confused about whether an item can be recycled, though. It’s about actually putting something in the recycling bin knowing that it likely won’t be recycled. A survey of over 3,000 people living in the UK found that these are the top 10 items that are frequently wishcycled, and what percentage of households do so:
- Drinking glasses – 33%
- Foil pouches – 29%
- Toothpaste tubes – 26%
- Plastic film lids – 24%
- Tissues and paper towels – 22%
- Glass cookware – 22%
- Clingfilm – 20%
- Plastic toys – 18%
- Plastic frozen veg bags – 18%
- Thin plastic carrier bags – 17%
“Wishcycling, despite our good intentions, can actually cause more harm than good.” says Lauren Sadler, Head of Sustainability & Communications at Sadlers.“We risk contaminating the entire batch when we toss items into the recycling bin without knowing if they’re truly recyclable. Contamination leads to problems at recycling facilities and even results in perfectly recyclable items ending up in landfills.
“You can play your part in reducing waste and preserving our environment by learning more about recycling guidelines specific to your area and making informed decisions about what you place in the recycling bin.”
Some people have even been knowingly adding things like cat litter and used nappies to their recycling bins – eurgh!
Recycling policies and strategies greatly differ across the UK, as do the types of materials that each region can recycle effectively. There are 350 local authorities in the UK, all with different policies and rules for recycling, this inconsistency is likely part of the reason for poor recycling rates in some areas.
How to avoid wishcycling in your own home
If you’re not sure what you can and can’t recycle from home in your area, you can use this handy tool to find out.
- Get familiar with what the labels mean
Recycling labels can be pretty confusing. Unless you’re ‘au fait’ with all the terms and symbols, it’s not always an easy code to decipher. However, there are resources out there to help you understand what the labels mean and how to handle your rubbish. Plastic symbols are probably the most puzzling of all but there is logic behind what the numbers mean, as the digit simply tells you what type of plastic material it is and you can then look up whether that can be recycled locally.
You can also learn about some of the trickier symbols here – such as The Green Dot, which means the manufacturer is financially contributing to recycling in Europe… but not that the packaging the symbol is on is, itself, recyclable. Seriously.
- Rinse food packaging and remove plastic film
You don’t need to spend hours washing everything with soap and water but it does make things more likely to be recycled if you have given things a quick rinse before you put them in the bin. That way leftover food residue won’t ruin your other recycling. This handy A-Z of recycling tells you what can be recycled and how to do it properly, from rinsing and replacing lids, to leaving labels on or ensuring you have removed all remnants of plastic film.
- Buy recycled and recyclable, and buy less
Keep the circular economy turning by making responsible purchasing decisions, from recycled garden furniture to biodegradable period products. Even gift giving can be done more responsibly if you opt for cards and wrapping paper that aren’t covered in glitter, coated in shiny plastic or foiled, that can render them non-recyclable.
According to the UN, more than 400million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide every year, half of which is designed to be used just once! Of that enormous amount, less than 10% is recycled. Buy your fruit and veg loose rather than packed in plastic bags and punnets; get yourself a re-usable water bottle and carry it with you; opt for glass bottles of sparkling water rather than plastic; steer clear of cling film, when you can use alternatives like compostable food wrap or beeswax wrap; explore refillable soap and cleaning products for your home… the list goes on!