Why is it a problem?
When the wrong items go in your recycling bin it is called contamination, this can lead to your bin or even a whole vehicle full of recycling being rejected. Some of the most commonly 'wish-cycled' items - items that don't belong in our recycling - are:
- Drinking glasses
- Foil pouches
- Toothpaste tubes
- Plastic film lids
- Tissue & paper towels
These can cause issues at recycling facilities and can lead to whole lorry loads of waste being rejected for recycling. Rejected loads are often sent to landfill or energy from waste meaning that none of the material in that load will be recycled. This can cost the local authority (and therefore tax payers) a lot of money to deal with, it can be anywhere between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds a year and has an impact on our planet.
This also means a loss of valuable resources as materials cannot be recycled into something new. This impacts climate change as recycling materials requires a lot less energy and creates less carbon dioxide (CO2) compared with extracting raw materials.
How to avoid wish-cycling
Check before you chuck
What you can put in your recycling bins depends on where you live and what the local Council will accept. Check their website or calendar for details on what you can recycle, which bin it needs to go in and stick to their list.
It is important to make sure your recycling is the best quality it can be. Make sure all containers are empty of food debris and rinsed where necessary to keep food out of the recycling. Cardboard and paper are often accepted in the recycling, however, your Council may not accept them if they are contaminated with food and grease (e.g. pizza and takeaway boxes).
Check what types of plastic are accepted
Although many items are called plastics, there are many different types of plastics with different properties that are used for different things. Therefore, they are recycled in different processes.
Your Council will clearly state what type of plastics they will accept in their recycling. E.g. if it states plastic bottles only, do not add any other plastic items such as pots, tubs and trays.
Other ways you can recycle
Supermarkets are also beginning to offer more recycling options such as printer cartridges, soft plastics (such as bread bags and carrier bags) and batteries.
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Article originally published 1st Jan 2022, revised and updated 21st April 2023.