Wishcycling – are you contaminating your recycling bin?

Have you ever thrown a takeaway pizza box in the recycling bin? Or recycled dirty food packaging? How about recycled a plastic bag? Wishcycling is defined as putting something in the recycling bin and hoping that it will be recycled even if you are unsure. It is usually the result of good-hearted attempts to recycle rather than a lack of caring. Unfortunately it is something that is occurring in many UK households and action needs to be taken to prevent further wishcycling.

Findings from the latest wave of our Great Green Sustainability Study (April 2022) show that 58% at least sometimes put packaging in their home recycling bin, even when they are unsure if it should go in there. This is higher amongst those aged 16-24 years old at 73%.

Takeaway pizza boxes and disposable takeaway coffee cups are most commonly put into recycling bins, despite the fact most councils do not accept them as part of recycling collections. And despite the recent push in returning soft plastics to supermarkets, we still see that over half of consumers are putting soft plastics in their recycling bins at home.

Although it’s positive that there is a certain amount of ‘hope’ amongst consumers that these items of packaging can be recycled and there aren’t bad intentions, wishcycling can have serious implications on the recycling process and levels of rubbish going to landfill. It can:

  • Slow down the recycling process;
  • Increase the sorting costs;
  • Damage sorting equipment;
  • Contaminate a whole batch of recyclable waste which then needs to be put into landfill.

Education of consumers will be key in overcoming this challenge. Other research we have conducted has shown that the majority of consumers are still confused with what can and can’t be recycled, and feel that they need more information. Local councils can help here by making it clearer what can be put in recycling bins; retailers can help by providing special recycling collection points (e.g. in coffee shops have a system for collecting coffee cups); and brands can ensure instructions for disposal is clear on the packaging. Through a combination of these solutions, hopefully we can move consumers away from wishcycling and towards good recycling.

Impact is working closely with a number of clients looking to optimise their sustainability messaging. If you would like to find out more about our work, including our Great Green Sustainability Study, then please contact Tom Gould, Head of Consumer on: tom.gould@impactmr.com

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