It’s called wish-cycling.

It’s the recycling of items that are not able to be recycled. Let’s get real for a minute, recycling can be confusing. What do each of those numbers mean, can my plastic go with my cardboard, bottle cap on or off? Couple that confusion with a little bit of over enthusiasm and you get some wishful thinking about what can be recycled. Wish-cycling.

Wish-cycling can also be a way of trying to clear a conscious, throwing something in the recycle bin that you know can’t be recycled but you’re hoping this time maybe it’ll slip through and get to turn into something new along with everything else. 

It’s doing quite the opposite actually. When your recycling is picked up and brought to a plant it’s first sorted and because of the immense volume of recycling that comes through daily they can’t pick out every piece of non-recyclable plastic mixed in. When they can’t pick it out it doesn’t go through and get to be recycled, instead the entire batch goes to landfill. Even the stuff that was supposed to be there. 

We understand it was with the best of intentions, but it ends up more damaging than hopeful.

So let’s take a look at things you may be tossing in the mix that aren’t supposed to be there:

  1. Greasy cardboard, that means if your pizza left a stain on that cardboard box, it’s no longer recyclable. 
  2. Broth, stock, orange juice, almond milk etc. packaging. Those cartons are coated in a plastic lining to keep the liquids from soaking through which can’t be separated from the cardboard and can’t be recycled together. 
  3. Wire clothing hangers. Even though metal is recyclable, the shape of wire hangers makes them not recyclable. They could get caught on and damage recycling equipment so plants don’t allow them to go through. 
  4. Bottle caps. This one has lead to a lot of confusion and we recommend you check your local recycling since few places are equipped to handle bottle caps but typically they’re made of a plastic that can’t be broken down again. 
  5. Soft plastics. Those are your candy wrappers, chip bags, popcorn wrapper, etc. these are all destined for the landfill. 
  6. Aerosol cans. Once again even though they’re a metal, the components render this metal non recyclable. 
  7. Coffee cups. Even though the majority of the country has made that switch from styrofoam to paper cups for the environment think again. Even your paper cup comes with a thin plastic lining that makes it once again non recyclable. 
  8. “Biodegradable” plastic cutlery. The biodegradable term on it is misleading. It’s not going to biodegrade in a landfill, it has to be sent to a special factory. Those factories are not very accessible and very few people are willing to go those extra steps for the few times their takeout reads “biodegradable”
  9. Ceramics. Getting rid of that plate set and those chipped mugs? Can’t recycle them. They’re meant for the landfill. 
  10. Broken glass. Glass is infinitely recyclable but not if it breaks. Not because of the glass itself but because recycling companies won’t accept it due to the increased hazard for workers. Once they see broken glass in a mix that entire batch gets tossed into the landfill. 
  11. Recyclable objects that you put out in a plastic garbage bag. Unless your county specifically asks you to bag your recyclables, it actually just ends up going to the landfill instead. 
  12. Christmas lights. They’re considered a “tangler” and can get caught in and damage machines so they’re not accepted. 
  13. Electronics. E-waste is becoming an issue of its own with everyone switching from analogue to digital. Some companies have programs that they will take your electronics and bring them to the specific factories needed for recycling for you but outside of that unless you’re willing to take them yourself, they don’t belong in the recycling bin. 
  14. Batteries. Once again special factories specifically designed to handle the hazardous material of batteries. These can’t just go in your basic curbside recycling. 
  15. Wood. Wooden baskets, storage containers, old tables, etc. Even though wood is natural, seems like it should be able to be turned into something new, they’re chemically treated so breaking them down isn’t possible without environmental harm. Why is this a big deal in the landfill? Addition of organic material buried under mounds of trash produces methane in landfills which gets released into the atmosphere. Wood in a landfill doesn’t just decompose into dirt. However untreated wood can be brought to certain facilities to be turned into wood chips and mulch and reused. 


Most of the time if the container has the recycling symbol with a 1-6 in the center it can be recyclable however I’d urge you to check with your local recycling facility because any of these rules can be dramatically changed location by location.