• Home Home

What is 'wishcycling?' TikToker warns against habit that ruins your recyclables

Have you ever thrown a movie theater drink cup into a recycling bin? If so, you might be a victim of wishcycling.

TikToker warning how you might be a victim of wishcycling.

Photo Credit: Tiktok

People across the country are recycling more than ever. The Pew Research Center estimates that 67% of Americans have recycling containers, and a survey by the Carton Council of North America found that over 90% of Americans support recycling efforts.

Recycling has provided many people with the opportunity to reduce waste as individuals and soothe some of their worries about our global trash crisis

But one of the flaws of recycling in the U.S. is the lack of public knowledge about proper recycling and recycling scams. This can lead to unintended consequences like wishcycling.

What is "wishcycling"?

Have you ever thrown a cardboard pizza box, movie theater drink cup, or takeout container into a recycling bin? If so, you might be a victim of wishcycling.

Wishcycling, or wishful recycling, is throwing a piece of trash into a recycling bin and hoping that it will be recycled. If you are unsure whether an item can be recycled or aren't taking measures to ensure an item's recyclability, wishcycling is just that: wishful thinking.

Giving a piece of unrecyclable trash the "opportunity" to be recycled is no better than simply throwing it in the trash. In fact, it's worse. 

Why is wishcycling bad?

In waste management, contamination is anything that reduces the value of a recyclable item. Recyclables, like properly cleaned plastics, have value to haulers that resell your materials for profit. When recyclable materials are contaminated, haulers have no choice but to send that material to a landfill.

Wishcycling just one contaminated item can send an entire truckload of recyclable items to a landfill rather than a recycling facility. The EPA found that nearly one in four recyclable items are not recycled due to contamination.

Beyond being wasteful, wishcycling is costly because the extra sorting requires more labor, and nonrecyclables can damage equipment. Before you toss something in a recycling bin, make sure you are following the parameters of your local recycling center.

And when in doubt, throw it out.

What does wishcycling look like?

In a viral TikTok, Alex, who works in garbage and recycling education in Oregon, explains why a plastic drink cup that was supposedly recycled is not actually recyclable. 

The Starbucks cup is filled with ice and food in the form of strawberries, and, as Alex explains, a recyclable item needs to be clean, empty, and dry in order to be recycled. 

@miss.alexandria #stitch with @garayua21 #recycling #sustainable #environment #lowwaste #wishcycling ♬ original sound - Alex (she/they)

Also, as the TikToker points out, the Starbucks "recycling" and "landfill" receptacles both collect in the same bin. No separation is actually happening, even though the bin creates the illusion that it is.  

Most of the packaging for fast food is designed to be used once and thrown away. Paper wrappers soiled with food, paper drink cups coated in plastic or wax, and black plastic containers are all examples of fast-food packaging that seems recyclable but wasn't designed to be. Even so, companies rely on customers' belief that their items are recyclable, a tactic known as greenwashing.

Food corporations and franchises participate in greenwashing by doing things like disguising a trash chute as a recycling chute, or creating strawless lids to reduce use of straws even as they increase the amount of plastic packaging

When customers believe deceitful greenwashing tactics, food franchises maintain wasteful practices as they evade accountability and responsibility.

Effective recycling includes throwing items that are technically recyclable but not in acceptable condition to be recycled in the trash. As contradictory as that sounds, knowing when a recyclable item should be recycled or thrown away is crucial to ensure items are really recycled. 

By avoiding wishcycling, we can help reduce waste and save valuable resources from being lost in landfills.

Cool Divider