Contamination: Wishcycling (and why we wish it would end)

Guest Blogger

Here at, we like recycling. However, we do not like wish-cycling which causes contamination. Wishcycling is a term we like to use to describe the act of throwing something not recyclable into the recycling bin because you think you are doing the right thing.

Contamination of your recycling bin can effectively contaminate the entire load of recyclables headed to the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). This means that your recycling efforts may come at a cost to your community and the environment. When recycling is contaminated by some materials, such as scrap metal, hazardous waste, broken glass, or excessive amounts of unacceptable plastics, the MRF will have no choice but to landfill the material.

Here’s Why Wish-cycling Doesn’t Work

Recycling is an industry that runs like an economy: What goes in, must come out… and hopefully at a profit. Unfortunately, the markets for some materials, like plastic and Styrofoam™ clamshell containers, are not profitable or the machinery to process the material is not available, and this results in the MRF’s refusal to accept this material. When the MRF is forced to sort out large amounts of incorrectly discarded material, it costs money. This reduces the profit for them on the acceptable materials and increases the cost to you and your community.

The Dangerous Side of Contamination

The dangerous side of contamination is not pretty. When people improperly dispose of things like scrap metal, batteries, broken glass, or plastic bags, the MRF is seriously hurt. Scrap metal damages machines and can injure employees, batteries explode when compressed by the machinery, broken glass, and sharps are dangerous to the employees, and plastic bags tangle up the machines which can cause shutdowns of the facility. These are all results of wish-cyclers tossing their waste in the wrong place.

Click here to read about Waste Management’s battle with contamination.

A Contamination Solution

There are a variety of ways to recycle or reuse items that cannot go in your curbside recycling, so don’t be discouraged! By recycling other items separately (and properly by not placing them in your curbside mix), you increase the value of other, beneficial recycling programs by maintaining a single stream of materials.

We encourage you to responsibly recycle your batteries, plastic bags, and other materials that the MRF does not accept. It’s easy to find a recycling location or service with the What Do I Do With search function. Or give us a call at (216) 443-3749. We’re here to help.

Author: Hillary Junglas, Solid Waste District intern