Approx 600 words.

Are you a wish-cycler? In this helpful guide, packaging technologist Robert Thompson introduces the concept of wish-cycling – how to avoid it as well as useful tips on how to recycle properly, whether at the workplace or at home

We’re all guilty of not washing out that ready-meal container or choosing not to remove the plastic film on a fruit punnet. But these actions have a name: wish-cycling. The act of attempting to recycle items that we hope can be recycled – but can’t.

It may sound harmless, but trying to recycle items that we shouldn’t can lead to multiple problems within the recycling process. Whether it’s a dirty food container or something made from mixed materials, one non-recyclable item has the power to contaminate a whole load of recyclable waste, causing it all to end up in landfill. Yes – the whole lot!

Wish-cycling can also slow down the recycling process. When items aren’t sorted correctly, recycling centres can end up facing increased sorting costs and delayed timelines. If recycling centres are sent too many materials that can’t be recycled, they may reject the load altogether (including items that can be recycled). It’s a huge waste – and something needs to be done about it. Luckily, there are some really easy things you can do at home to help.

How to avoid wish-cycling

It may sound obvious, but learning how to recycle properly will prevent a lot of the damage caused by wish-cycling. Just a few simple changes can make a huge difference. I’ve rounded up a few of the most common recycling blunders below, including tips on how to avoid them.  

1. Wash out food containers

Dirty food containers can’t be recycled, so make sure you rinse them thoroughly before recycling. Peanut butter jars, pizza boxes and ready-meal trays are all common culprits.

2. Recycle soft plastics at your local Co-op store

Soft plastics, like crisp packets, bread bags or the film on fruit punnets, can’t be recycled in normal recycling bins. But, they can be recycled in our new soft plastic recycling bins in store! Simply take your soft plastic waste (it doesn’t matter where you bought the item) with you next time you shop at Co-op. Easy.

3. Check your local council’s rules

Make sure you understand your local authority’s recycling system and what they will and won’t recycle. If you have separate recycling streams, make sure you clean items, then place each material in the correct bin.

Find out what you can recycle at home or in your local area.

4. Separate products made from mixed materials

A lot of food is packaged using a combination of different materials, like cardboard and plastic. I often have to remind myself to remove the tape from cardboard boxes before I recycle them! Make sure you read the recycling instructions on packaging thoroughly, to understand what can and cannot be recycled.

5. Look out for tricky items

You know those items you’ve always recycled, but were never actually sure about? Things like toothpaste tubes, drinking glasses and polystyrene. None of these can actually be recycled through the majority of household waste collections. Next time you’re not sure whether an item can be recycled in your area, look it up! It could make the world of difference.

6. Double check labels

Not all materials are created equally. Some plastics can be recycled at kerbside, while others can’t, so look out for the recycling symbol on products before you put them in the recycling bin.

Find out more about our clever soft recycling bins in store including info on which items you can and can’t recycle in them.

Robert Thompson
Packaging Technologist

Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. generally I don’t need to spend much time thinking about recycling dirty waste plastic etc as waste in Worcestershire doesn’t go to landfill. It is incinerated and produces electricity for thousands of homes

  2. Peanut butter jars need redesigning. They nearly always have an area you can’t get the peanut butter out of, usually at the neck of the jar. This is wasting food and makes them very difficult to wash and thus recycle.

    • What if you use a disused toothbrush to clean around difficult to reach areas such as the neck of the jar?

  3. The soft plastic container at my local co op is too small and is nearly always full. I’m guessing it will be the same at other co ops. If people can’t use the container because it is full, they will stop using it.

    • I just leave it in the boot of the car until such time as I can deposit it. I suppose they’re small to begin with as the Co-op wasn’t sure what the uptake was going to be. Great that they are being so well used though.

  4. i have concerns about washing all items pre recycling. A plastic recycling plant I visited once washed all waste it received which was clearly more efficient. Individual washing at home is wasteful of drinking quality water

    • Do them at the end of your washing up, with the water that’s already a bit grimy

    • You wash items in washing up bowl after washing dishes prior to pulling the plug , this way no drinking water is wasted

    • Hi David I agree that it would be far better for the recycling plant to wash items, but if we all use our dish water to wash recycling then we won’t be wasting good quality drinking water & the facility likewise saves on water. I suppose that’s the disadvantage of dishwashers they don’t provide the same ecological service for cleaning recycling food containers.

  5. My local council has an A-Z list on their website of what can and can’t be recycled and it is very long list indeed. Although I am on a water meter I always wash off food scraps from tin cans before putting them in the blue bin. We are also encouraged to clean baked on food scraps from tin foil containers before putting them in the recycling. I often think am I consuming more energy by doing this than by doing the recycling in the first place?

    • Kevin if the food is really baked on hard I just cut that section off and recycle the rest. Generally with take away food foil containers I find the remnants of food dissolve away quite easily. I found that the curry discoloured my cleaning sponge which took some cleaning. Now I wash off Curry using kitchen roll sheets – as few as possible – more water/ energy saved!


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