Decoding Wishcycling: Rethinking Recycling Assumptions

Urban Ecology Center
November 27, 2023


Have you ever found yourself engaging in wishcycling? Wishcycling occurs when we toss an item into the recycling bin, hoping it will magically be recycled, even without proper confirmation of its recyclability. While this act may temporarily ease our guilt, it can actually have adverse effects. Wishcycling introduces non-recyclable materials into the collected recyclable materials, leading to contamination and increased costs of the recycling process. In this blog post, we explore the concept of wishcycling, its consequences, and a UEC's participation in one of Terracycle's recycling programs.

The Hazards of Wishcycling:

While wishcycling is driven by good intentions, it can be detrimental to recycling efforts. Non-recyclable items mixed with recyclables can disrupt the sorting process at recycling facilities. This contamination can damage recycling equipment, decrease the quality of recycled materials, and even result in entire batches being rejected. Consequently, wishcycling compromises the effectiveness and efficiency of recycling programs.

Here are 5 easy steps to avoid Wishcycling:

  1. Learn your local municipal recycling rules (each municipality has their own guidelines on what is accepted in recycling). Learn about the recycling rules in the city of Milwaukee if that's where you live.
  2. Loose in the Bin! Always put your recyclables loose in the bin unless advised differently by the collector. You can bag the paper in a paper bag.
  3. Rinse and Return: empty out the content of the containers and remove all the debris before recycling.
  4. No electronics at curbside recycling.
  5. When in Doubt, Throw it Out. If you are not sure about the item, throw it away. Any plastics without the recycling number should be thrown out.

It is important to learn what “accepted” means in recycling. Not all the plastics that are collected can be recycled. There are some hard-to-recycle plastics. Terracycle is one of the organizations that connects consumers to a recycling solution. They offer a wide range of recycling options for some of these hard-to-recycle wastes, often involving the manufacturer to fund or recycle their goods.

The Urban Ecology Center is excited to host the Colgate bin, Drink Pouch bin and “Beauty Bin” in our Terracycle Pilot Program at our Riverside Park branch. As a collection site, we’ll have three bins to collect and recycle select materials that wouldn’t be recyclable in our Milwaukee municipal recycling program (see links and graphic below to know what you can drop off!) While we try as individuals to try and reduce our consumption of single-use items, we want to work together in finding solutions for the best disposal of some materials that we still consume.

Colgate bin, Drink Pouch bin and “Beauty Bin” in our Terracycle Pilot Program at our Riverside Park branch

This is just a small step towards reducing our impact on the planet and people. We encourage you to learn more about ways to reduce and divert waste. Connect with local organizations like Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, Plastic-free MKE, Wastecap Resource Solutions, and many more (too many to list here) to learn more.

While individual efforts to reduce single-use items are commendable, the collaboration between organizations highlights the importance of collective responsibility. By working together, we can explore innovative ways to tackle wishcycling and promote sustainable waste management practices.

Resources about the Terracycle bins at the UEC:

Colgate Oral Care Free Recycling Program

Drink Pouch Free Recycling Program

More resources about recycling in Milwaukee:

About Wastecap

Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful Programs

Urban Ecology Center
Past Employee
Guest Author

At the Urban Ecology Center, we connect people in cities to nature and each other.

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