Wishcycling is putting something in the recycling bin and hoping it will be recycled, even if there is little evidence to confirm this assumption.
Hope is central to wishcycling. People may not be sure the system works, but they choose to believe that if they recycle an object, it will become a new product rather than being buried in a landfill, burned or dumped.
The U.S. recycling industry was launched in the 1970s in response to public concern over litter and waste. The growth of recycling and collection programs changed consumers’ view of waste: It didn’t seem entirely bad if it could lead to the creation of new products via recycling.
The China scrap restrictions created enormous waste backups in the U.S., where governments had under-invested in recycling systems. Consumers saw that recycling was not as reliable or environmentally friendly as previously believed.
Contaminating the waste stream with material that is not actually recyclable makes the sorting process more costly because it requires extra labor. Wishcycling also damages sorting systems and equipment and depresses an already fragile trading market.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.