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One Very Bad Habit Is Fueling the Global Recycling Meltdown

It’s called “wishcycling,” and pretty much all of us do it

If you’re like me, you’ve looked at a paper coffee cup or an empty tube of toothpaste and thought, “Is this recyclable?” before tossing it in the recycling bin, hoping someone, somewhere, would sort it out. People in the waste management industry call this habit “wishcycling.” According to Marian Chertow, director of the Solid Waste Policy program at Yale University, “a wishcycler wants to do the right thing and feels that the more that he or she can recycle, the better.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but this well-intentioned reflex is doing more harm than good. Not only that, but wishcycling is playing a big role in the current global recycling meltdown.

First, a bit about the process. When my recycling is scooped up by a truck every week, it goes to a materials recovery facility (MRF) run by a company called Recology. After the goods travel through the facility’s jungle of conveyor belts and sorting machinery, they are shipped as bales to buyers in the United States and abroad, who turn that material into products like cereal boxes and aluminum cans.

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