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Have you heard of wishcycling?

We’ve all done it. You’re holding something thinking “is this recyclable?” And then think that it must be so you toss it into the recycling and then that’s that! But this can actually lead to problems at the recycling facilities and cause more problems – and there’s actually a term for it: wishcycling.

Wish-cycling is the practice of tossing questionable items in the recycling bin, hoping they can be recycled."

People actually physically sort through all the recycling, compost, and garbage, and when items are cross contaminated it can lead to machinery in the facilities breaking, or contaminating items that can be recycled getting sent to landfill.

Here are five items that you may think can be recycled, but can’t*

*note this is just for Halifax Regional Municipality, please check your municipality

Pizza boxes: if pizza boxes (or paper) are greasy or have food on them, they can’t be recycled – but good news, they can be composted!

three pizza boxes sit on a table with plates by them as people reach and grab slices

Coffee cups: disposable coffee cups are unfortunately garbage - they have a liner (often plastic) inside them so the liquid doesn’t leak out, making it a mixed material, and therefore unable to be recycled. 

Styrofoam: while some municipalities have recycling for styrofoam, HRM doesn’t. So all takeout containers unfortunately are destined for the landfill.

Bottle caps: pop bottle caps or bee bottle caps aren’t recycling and have to go into the garbage. The same goes for any bottle cap (like sunscreen, shampoo and soaps).

Plastic straws and plastic cutlery: while they are made from plastic, and you may think they are recyclable, they aren’t and have to go into the garbage. This is why you should bring your own (you can buy a set here, or make a DIY one).

Lots of municipalities have ‘waste wizards’ where you can search for an item to see where it should go - HRM has a great app called HFX Recycles that you can use to search to see where things go! It’s my go-to if I’m ever unsure.

Recycling isn’t the answer anyways

Growing up, at least for my education, I was taught that if you recycling you’re a good environmentalist, and my environmental education kind of started and ended with there. 

But recycling isn’t the answer to our plastic pollution problems.

Did you know that only 9% of items that are sent to be recycled are actually recycled? 

a beach covered in plastic pollution

Recycling is ineffective for a few reasons:

  • it takes so many resources to recycle. In fact it's ofter cheaper to make items out of virgin (or new) plastic than recycled plastic
  • if an item in your recycling bag hasn't been washed properly, it can contaminate the whole bag, sending it all to landfill
  • there has to be a market for it – someone has to want to buy the recycling in order for it to be recycled! 

While we do absolutely need to recycle the plastic that is currently in our waste stream, we also need to stop the flow of new plastic into our systems, and rethink our systems to create a circular economy. One where items are designed to last and to be repurposed and reused. 

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