For years my husband would tell me certain things probably couldn’t be recycled, and my response, as I stubbornly smushed said things into the overstuffed blue bin, would be, ‘it can’t hurt to try.’ My thinking was that if the pizza box really was too greasy, they’d simply sort it out. No harm done. I’ve since reformed my ways, but it was only last week that I learned there’s an actual term for this blindly hopeful penchant for reuse: wishcycling.
Turns out wishcycling is not only expensive but harmful. It reduces the overall recycle rate through contamination. And it bungs up sorting machines that aren’t designed to handle items people merely wish were recyclable. This, when we can’t afford to reduce our already paltry diversion rate. Canada recycles just 9% of its plastic waste. Unsurprisingly, Philippines wants neither our salad clamshells nor our micro-bead infused fast fashion.
I think my wishcycling stemmed from a desire to poof away the copious amounts of packaging that pile up in our house on the weekly. If I can disappear them, then it’s almost like we didn’t use them, and I can pretend it’s all not so bad. Single-use plastics, even when they can be recycled, travel a circuitous and wasteful journey that mostly makes no sense. Looking at the bags full of plastic packaging that we accrue, despite my best efforts to deny them entry to my home, makes me feel gross. The thought that a pizza box has nowhere to go but landfill weighs me down. (Or maybe it’s the three slices of margherita that weigh me down.) Regardless, I want to wish it all away.
Wishcycling is the right intention leading to the wrong action. We all want to do little things every day to ward off the apocalypse. These things should both give us the hope to push forward and ever-so-slightly lessen our contributions to the problem. But hope without realism is as good as daydreaming -- sooner or later, you’ll wake up. Small things add up; small nothings don’t.
My attempt to go zero waste for Make a Change in May was a bust at best. I did manage things like bringing glass containers to the fruit market for our berries. But I didn’t manage anything near the deplastification of my recycling bin that I’d hoped for. Process not product has been my husband’s mantra of late. It’s the startup spin on it’s the journey, not the destination. Or in my case it’s the soft-shoe side shuffle, not the final tap routine. In other words, I’ll keep going.