Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Wish-Cycling: What it is and Why You Shouldn’t Do It

Landfill photo from “Help Put a Stop to Wish-Cycling”

We’ve all been there – holding a greasy pizza box, or a cracked plastic item we no longer want…and wondering whether or not it should go in the recycling or the trash.  And often, because we want to be helpful and keep whatever we can out of landfills, we toss it in the blue bin, hoping that a) it really is recyclable and b) that if it isn’t, it will just be weeded out at the recycling center.

In fact, this moment of indecision/decision is so common it has a name: “wish-cycling” – adding something to the recycling stream while hoping (and not fully knowing) that it is indeed recyclable.

But it turns out that wish-cycling is usually not the right thing to do.

Yesterday, the LA Department of Sanitation shared an article from the RecycleCoach blog on social media…and we thought it could use some wider distribution.

According to the article, “Help Put a Stop to Wish-Cycling,” “wishing for something to be recyclable doesn’t make it so.”  And, even more important,  “Wish-cycling contributes in a big way to contamination, which is when an incorrect item or material is added to a specific waste stream, in this case the recycling stream. When a batch of recyclables is contaminated, there’s a good chance it’ll be rejected and end up in the landfill.”

And they don’t just mean the one incorrect item will end up in a landfill.  They mean the ENTIRE BATCH of recyclables, containing an incorrect item, may be landfilled instead of recycled.  Yes, that’s right – non-recyclable items in larger batches of things that might otherwise be recyclable can contaminate the whole batch of potential recyclables.  And “because of that one problematic thing you tried to recycle, tons of properly recycled items could get landfilled.”

The RecycleCoach article goes on to say:

“Wish-cycling might start with the best of intentions, but it’s one of the biggest issues facing waste management today. This is because it actually creates more waste in the long run. It also makes recycling potentially unsustainable, which is obviously a bad thing.”

The key here is that recyclables…

“…are all processed at a local Materials Recovery Facility (MRF, pronounced murf). No two MRFs are the same. Each is outfitted with unique equipment and capabilities…Introducing items that can’t be processed by your MRF can damage it, which means nothing gets recycled until the equipment’s up and running again. This is very expensive. It also happens much too frequently. When recycling becomes uneconomical, some local governments might think twice about doing it. By recycling right, we’re doing our part to keep it affordable.”

But this doesn’t have to happen… and the fix is easy – just keep the city’s list of allowed recyclables handy – it’s at – and consult it whenever you’re not 100% sure which bin the item in your hand should go in.  It takes just a second (especially if you print out the list and post it by your recycling container), and the more often you consult the list, the more familiar you’ll become with it…and the more you can help protect our local recycling stream.

No more wish-cycling!

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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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