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Wishcycling: Government to tell people to recycle fewer things

Wishcycling is the act of putting things in the recycling bin when either hoping or mistakenly believing they can be reused. A government consultation will aim to tackle this with new guidelines and rules.

The government will ask people to put fewer items into recycling bins as it plans to cut back on contamination from improperly prepared or non-recyclable objects, according to reports.

It is part of a plan to tackle “wishcycling” – where people put items they hope are recyclable into the relevant container, but their good intention potentially ruins a batch of waste for processing.

Items commonly thought to be recyclable include greasy pizza boxes, bioplastics, used paper towels and unwashed food containers.

According to the i newspaper, the new guidance will be laid out to clarify what can and cannot go into kerbside bins.

A consultation was launched in 2021 by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) on how to improve the consistency of recycling in both homes and businesses.

It is in response to this that ministers are expected to announce a crackdown on “wishcycling” later this year, while councils and packaging companies will also be given new instructions to help with collections and labelling.

The aim will be to increase the proportion of waste that is successfully recycled by excluding contaminants and non-recyclable items.

For example, according to packaging company Takeaway Packaging, including a greasy pizza box in cardboard or paper recycling has the potential to ruin a whole batch later on in the process.

The objects get mulched and mixed with chemicals to remove inks and glues, but oil and grease mix into the “slurry” and “it’s no longer possible to separate oil from paper fibres”.

There have even been reports of refuse collectors being told to not accept greasy cardboard containers if they are put in recycling bins.

Items which cannot be recycled

  • Greasy food boxes
  • Kitchen roll
  • Disposable coffee cups
  • Crisp packets
  • Food pouches
  • Mirrors
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Polystyrene
  • Lightbulbs
  • Plastic bags
  • Bioplastics

A Defra spokesman said: “We want to make waste and recycling collections simpler and more convenient for homeowners, including by preventing food waste from contaminating recyclable materials.

“This forms part of our drive to increase recycling rates, reducing the impact on our environment and contributing to our net zero ambitions.

“We have held a public consultation on the proposed changes and will announce further details shortly.”

The Local Government Association has called for extra funding to manage the new rules expected to be introduced for councils.

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A spokesman told the i: “Every neighbourhood is different and councils need flexibility in how they meet these ambitions in communities. What works for a rural village, for example, will not be the same for a tower block.

“Longer term, we look forward to working with government, packaging producers, the waste industry and communities in reducing waste and safeguarding our environment.”

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