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Are You Guilty Of Wishcycling?

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On the JJ Barnes Blog, I check out what wishcycling means and why it’s damaging the environment, discover the UK’s most wishcycled items, and learn what we should do instead.

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What is Wishcycling?

Wishcycling is when we put recyclable materials in the recycling bin, but they can’t actually be recycled, usually because we aren’t sure if it can be recycled and we WISH it will be recycled, so take the gamble.

I’ve done this before. I always figured it’s the better choice because I’d rather something be recycled that can be than isn’t, and always figured that if it can’t be recycled it’ll end up in the bin anyway, so no harm, no foul. However, I recently learned that I might actually be making the situation worse by making this choice.

With instances of recycling contamination on the rise, thanks to people like me, and some goods and packaging materials becoming harder to recycle, cardboard box suppliers Sadlers decided to send over their research into wishcycling to help us do more recycling from home.

Wishcycling Discoveries

  • 84% of households contaminate their recycling due to wishcycling.
  • Polystyrene is the most confounding thing, with 3,620 month to month look around whether it can be recycled.
  • The second-most confusing thing is bubble wrap, followed by blister packs, both getting more than 1,000 UK searches a month.

Lauren Sadler, Head of Maintainability and Correspondences at Sadlers, explained that wishcycling, despite our honest intentions, can really cause more harm than good. When we throw things into the recycling that cna’t be recycled, we risk contaminating the whole batch. Contamination causes issues at recycling facilities, and even ends up with recyclable things ending up in landfills.

Sadlers have found of the common causes of uncertainty, taking note of the number of online searches every month to find solutions to questions including ‘can I recycle’ and ‘can you recycle’:

  1. Polystyrene – 3620
  2. Bubble wrap – 1370
  3. Rankle packs – 1130
  4. Destroyed paper – 790
  5. Garments – 600

CDs, Compact disc cases, books and pizza boxes also appear in the top ten.

Given the numerous recycling approaches and methodologies across the UK, it is no big surprise that shoppers are struggling to work out what can be recycled in their local area. For instance, optical scanners frequently mix up thin dark plastic for the dark conveyer belt, causing it to be rejected. Currently, only Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire are able to recycle this type of plastic effectively, with the remainder of the UK regions lacking the necessary infrastructure. 

Most wishcycled things

Wishcycling doesn’t only include when we’re not sure if a thing can be recycled, it also refers to when we put something in the recycling bin knowing they can’t be recycled. A study of more than 3,000 individuals in the UK found that these are the main 10 things that are regularly wishcycled, and what percentage of families do it:

  1. Drinking glasses – 33%
  2. Foil pockets – 29%
  3. Toothpaste tubes – 26%
  4. Plastic film covers – 24%
  5. Tissues and paper towels – 22%
  6. Glass cookware – 22%
  7. Clingfilm – 20%
  8. Plastic toys – 18%
  9. Plastic frozen veg packs – 18%
  10. Meager plastic transporter packs – 17%

Lauren explained that it’s important to understand what wishcycling means and why we ought to attempt to stay away from it. You can reduce waste and preserve our environment by learning more about your local recycling guidelines, and reaching informed conclusions about what you place in the recycling container.

The best UK areas for recycling

Based on what is recyclable in each area, the individual policy, how easy and accessible waste information can be found on council websites, the regions with the best recycling strategy, are Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and East Sussex.

Policies are one are thing, but how to different UK regions do when it comes to recycling rates?

The top five local authorities for recycling rate

  1. Three Rivers District Council – 63.5%
  2. South Oxfordshire District Council – 62.7%
  3. East Devon District Council – 61%
  4. Stockport MBC – 60.3%
  5. East Riding of Yorkshire Council – 60.1%

The bottom five local authorities for recycling rate

  1. Nottingham City Council – 25.3%
  2. Dartford Borough Council – 24.3%
  3. Birmingham City Council (West Midlands) – 22.8%
  4. Tower Hamlets LB (London) – 19.7%

How to improve your recycling

As recycling arrangements are so varied across the UK, the best way to get the most of your recycling goals is to review your local policies. If you’re not sure what is recyclable in your area, use this tool.

Other tips for improving your recyling include:

  • stay away from wishcycling by only placing recyclable things in your recycling bin
  • wash any things that have food buildup before you put them in the recycling bin
  • make sure that cardboard waste is dry
  • squash down bottles and other large things to decrease volume
  • separate combined items like paper and plastic
  • demand more from organizations, and support organizations that have sustainable packaging

Check out the full recycling and wishcycling guide for additional regional differences, as well as top tips for organizations on reducing packaging waste.


The reason I have been wishcycling is the desire to get more things recycled rather than less, so I’m going to change my habits and be more cautious about what I put in the blue bin!

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