Reduce, Reuse, Wishcycle? - The Years Project

Reduce, Reuse, Wishcycle?

By Gabriella Sotelo

Recycling is one way to lower our impact on the environment, but sometimes enthusiasm for this solution gets in the way of its actual benefits.  

The United States is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. In 2017 the United States emitted 6.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Of that, 89 million metric tons of CO2 came from municipal landfills in 2018. Needless to say, the United States has a waste problem.

The trash generated in the United States in 2017 amounted to 267.8 million tons. That is the equivalent of around 15 million garbage trucks. And only a quarter of that was composted or recycled. Though that may seem like a lot, more can be done about this waste problem because people don’t seem to know what can be recycled and what can’t.

This is why items like pizza boxes, plastic wrap, and ketchup bottles have a common factor. Like many other items, they get wish-cycled. 

Wish-cycling is when you put something in recycling with the hope that it is recyclable. When something is wish-cycled, it slows the streamlined process of recycling. Recyclable items are difficult to separate from non-recyclables once they’re in the system. 

The ketchup bottle has to be rinsed out before you can put it in the recycling and the pizza box must not have any grease or food on it to be recyclable.

Plastic film or bags can never go with your recyclables. They can jam and clog the recycling machines. This wastes the time of workers at the recycling center, wastes fuel and energy, and results in all of the items now having to be put into the trash or waste disposals. For items like plastic bags and plastic film, they can be recycled elsewhere, some grocery stores even have bins specifically made for collecting them. And if you don’t know where to go, you can look it up on this website.

Any non-recyclable item introduced to a recycling center and introduced to a batch of recyclables can contaminate all of the products. So in the end it would have been better to just throw your item away in the trash instead of recycling.

Or better yet, if you find yourself staring at your recycling bin with maybe a ketchup bottle in your hand, you can look up on the internet whether or not it is recyclable. Or if you have five minutes you can watch this video on what is and isn’t recyclable.

Header Photo: Terence Ong