We’ve all been there. It’s Friday night, you’ve just enjoyed a takeaway pizza and now you don’t quite know what to do with the greasy box you’re left with. Although you’re pretty sure it’s recyclable, you think perhaps the grease means it no longer will be. You may then think it’s best to pop it into the recycling, to give it the best chances of avoiding landfill. Better to do it this way round, and they can always separate it out at the recycling plant, right?
These are the thought processes that many of us go through when we aren’t quite sure whether we can recycle something. This act of popping something into the recycling and hoping for the best is known as “wishcycling.”
It is certainly understandable, and our intentions are always good. We want to be eco-friendly, and we want our packaging and waste to be reused.
However, unfortunately, whilst we may think it’s harmless to err on the side of optimism and throw the maybe-recyclable-but-maybe-not item into the recycling, this can actually cause a lot of issues down the line.
Is It Actually Recyclable?
We may think we have a good idea of what is recyclable and what isn’t. However, things can actually be quite complicated.
For example, paper and cardboard are recyclable, but a lot of packaging may also involve a coating that then renders paper unrecyclable. This coating may be plastic or chemical based. For example, paper receipts seem as though they should be recyclable, but the thermal coating on them known as bisphenol A (BPA) can be harmful to the environment. So, if a receipt ended up in the recycling stream, it could contaminate other products.
Similarly, packaging that has become dirtied by food, like a greasy pizza box, is no longer recyclable.
So, what would actually happen if we throw one of these items into the recycling?
Contamination of Recyclable Materials
As mentioned above, a key issue with this is the risk of contaminating other recyclable materials. An unwashed jar could risk contaminating an entire load of recyclable items.
This contamination can create unclean conditions, which could then attract pests. Further, it means that processed recyclable loads become less suitable for sale. Contamination of a load of recyclable materials, even by one item, could mean a buyer would turn the entire shipment away. This could lead to increased wastage both in terms of material and energy.
Overall, this could reduce the profitability of the recycling industry as a whole, and could lead to increase costs for recycling.
Items that are not supposed to be thrown in the recycling can also cause damage to the machines at recycling plants. They can cause equipment to jam or even break down entirely.
It is also important to note that you should never put your recycling in a plastic bag, as these can cause serious complications that can cost thousands.
Not only are these mistakes pricey, but they put workers in danger with fire risks. They may also have to hand pick broken glass out of the assembly line, which is another health hazard for them.
Having to sift through and remove unsuitable items from the recycling slows the entire process down at recycling plants. Employees have to hand pick these items out, which makes the entire thing a lot more labour intensive, and again could lead to increased costs.
How can we prevent wishcycling?
A key thing that companies can do to ensure wishcycling is a thing of the past, is to make sure the recycling labels on products are clear and easy to understand.
Our eco-friendly products at Field & Fare are entirely recyclable, making life easy for the consumer. For example, our Earthpouch is completely paper based, and the natural barrier used means the whole thing can be recycled through the paper stream. This leaves no second guessing that it can in fact be placed safely in the recycling box with no negative consequences.
In our own homes, a good place to start is to always ensure we read the labels on packaging, and never assume something is recyclable even if it is made of paper or card.
Having read labels, always ensure non-recyclable parts of products are removed, and if the packaging has been in contact with food, make sure to wash it well. If it cannot be cleaned, then it should go in landfill or kept for other uses.
If in doubt about a product, it may be worth following the “reduce and reuse” mantra, and try and reduce the amount of non-recyclable packaging you are purchasing in the first place. You could then also find other uses for packaging around the house, for example keeping jars to reuse for storage purposes.
It’s great to know that people see recycling as important, and hopefully by understanding why it’s crucial to be sure before popping something in the recycling bin, we can make the whole process more efficient.
ELLIE BALDERSON, MARKETING