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Zero Waste Living

A Beginner’s Guide to Wish Cycling

Wish cycling is a term you maybe haven’t heard before. If not, don’t worry. I didn’t know what it was either. However, wish cycling is something that everyone should know about, because it can greatly affect how many recyclable items actually get recycled. 


Do I have your attention now?


Good. Let’s keep going.


What is Wish Cycling?


Have you ever heard of wish cycling? I hadn’t until my family started our zero waste challenge. But I knew as soon as I heard what it was we were extremely guilty of it. So, what is it?


Wish cycling definition:

Basically, wish cycling is when you’re staring at an item in your hand, then you look at the recycling bin, then back to the item in your hand, and you’re questioning whether or not said item is recyclable. Then, out of sheer hope, you toss it in the recycling because you figure might as well try, right?





If I could count up the number of times I did this, the number of items I tossed into recycling out of sheer hope that maybe it was recyclable, I KNOW that I would be embarrassed to tell you.  


So what is so wrong with it? Having non-recyclable items in with recyclable items can:


  • Produce more waste: Why is this? Because some recycling facilities have limited resources not allowing them to physically sort through recycling. If there are lots of non-recyclable items mixed with recyclable items, the whole batch, bag, or container could get tossed. Ouch.
  • Waste time and money: If a recycling facility is using a machine to sort out recycling, a non-recyclable item can get caught in the machine and cause the machine to malfunction or break. This costs time and resources to fix.



When we met with our zero waste challenge advisor and she told us about wish cycling, we asked if we were in doubt, what to do. She recommended the following:

  • Check with your local recycling company, the city, etc to see if they have recycling guides. Many do. If there is an item you are unsure about, check the guide first before recycling. You can sometimes use a general source such as Google or Pinterest if you aren’t able to find your answer locally.
  • If in doubt and you don’t have access to any guides or reference materials, throw it out. Yes, it hurts, but it is better than the alternatives.


I remember after we found out about wish cycling and the consequences, we felt really bad and guilty. Remember how I implied we did this A LOT? If you are feeling something along those lines, don’t. Don’t feel guilty. Your intentions were good and you didn’t know any better. Just acknowledge what happened was in the past, and vow to move forward with this newfound knowledge! This is a judgment-free zone as we are all learning as we go.


Now that my family knows about wish cycling, we are certainly a lot more mindful of what we put in the recycling bin. That being said, we are often looking up items on our guide, because it can still be confusing as to what you can and can’t recycle. If you’re in the same boat, you’re not alone! I would just encourage you to keep going and learning.


Here are three articles about wish cycling if you’d like to learn more:

Watch out for Wish Cycling

Resolve to Stop Wish Cycling in the New Year

3 Big Reasons Wish-Cycling is Always a Bad Idea


This is a great resource that lists the top 10 ‘offenders’ that people recycle that shouldn’t be recycled in your general recycling bin!


Have you ever heard of wish cycling? Are you guilty of it like I was?


Become a trash talker and learn how to reduce your waste for good!
Become a trash talker and learn how to reduce your waste for good!



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What is wish cycling

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5 years ago

I’d love to get to this point but we’re still in decluttering/purging mode after 25 years of family life. Definitely plan to be a minimalist going forward!

5 years ago

This is so helpful. I had no idea I was a wish cycler until now. I’ve become lazy about wasting (I used to be all about zero waste) and this is great motivation!!

5 years ago

We live on a military base and when we first moved in we had recycling service weekly. Then about 6 months later they dropped recycling altogether. It sucks. My husband and I don’t have time to make a recycling run ourselves and we loved recycling.


[…] all like plastic types to be sorted, which is labor intensive. Additionally, if anything was ‘wish-cycled’ with the plastic and contaminates the batch, all the plastic (and other recyclable items in the […]


[…] takes time and money away from the facility. If you want more information, check out my post on wish-cycling (which is what this is […]