Are You Wish-Cycling Some of Your Paper items

Wish-cycling is where you put items in your recycling that can’t actually be recycled.  You may think that becasue they’re made of paper or carboard that they can automatically be recycled; but sometimes that’s just wishful thinking i.e. wish-cycling.

what's the problem with wish-cycling

The problem with wish-cycling paper items that can’t be recycled will depend on the item. 

For instance, paper that has greasy food residue on it can’t be recycled becasue the grease and food residue may contaminate the whole batch of recycled paper.  Most disposable paper cups can’t be recylced as they’re coated in plastic which will again contaminate the recycling.

Also things like wet soggy paper may clog up the machinery at the recycling plant and cause breakdowns.

All the above are good reasons why you shouldn’t wish-cycle some paper items.  However, before you can stop wish-cycling you need to know what they are and why they can’t be recycled.

Common paper items that can't be recycled

Pizza Boxes

The problem with pizza boxes comes down to the problem with grease and food residue.  The actual carboard is would be fine to be recycled but any grease or food residue makes it unsuitable.  You can usually tear the lid of the pizza box off and place in the recycling and any food contaminated cardboard can go in your compost bin.

wish-cycling pizza boxes

Disposable Paper Cups

Most disposable paper cups are coated with a thin layer of plastic that makes them unsuitable to be recyeled.

wish-cycling disposable paper cups

Paper Napkins

Again the problem with paper napkins and tissues is that they have usually been contaminated with food or liquids which make them unrecyclable.

wish-cycling paper napkins

Paper with paint on it

Unfortunately all those lovely childrens paintings can’t be recycled.  This is the case even if water based paints are used as the problem comes from the paper getting wet. 

Once paper becomes wet the fibres are damaged and this makes it very difficult to recycle.

wish-cycling kids painting


Most receipts are made from thermal paper which is coated in BPA (BPA stands for bisphenol A and is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resin. Because the receipts are made from thermal paper this means they can’t be recycled.

wish-cycling receipts

Shredded Paper

Shredded paper is difficult to recycle as when the paper is shredded it cuts the fibres into short lengths. Short paper fibres are hard to make into a good qulaity paper pulp and this affects the quality of the new paper.

How to avoid wish-cycling paper items

The best way to stop wish-cycling these items is to avoid them in the first place, just think of the 5 R’s of Zero Waste:

  • Refuse – Learn to say no! Say no to food wrapped in plastic, say no to that plastic straw.
  • Reduce – Think before you buy.  
  • Reuse – If things break, repair them or have them repaired. Upcycle items you would otherwise throw away, paint that old chair and give it a new lease of life. Buy second hand.
  • Recycle – If you’ve managed to Refuse, Reduce and Reuse then you shouldn’t have a lot left but make sure you separate out your remaining rubbish and put the recycleable rubbish in the recycling bin.
  • Rot – Compost your food waste and use it to fertilise your plants and many grow a few veggies or salad leaves of your own.

It should be possible to reduce these unrecylable paper items so that you don’t need to worry about recycling them. 

  • Always remember to take your reusable cup with you
  • Switch paper napkins and tissues to reusable cotton napkins or hankies.  
  • Say no to paper recipts or accept an alternative emailed receipt

However, if you can’t avoid them then you need to make sure you dispose of them correctly or find an alternative. 

For instance you can compost your pizza boxes and when it comes to painted paper, if they are you childrens drawings why not make them into a portfolio, frame them or use them as wrapping paper. If you have pets then shredded paper can be used as bedding.

Don’t be a wish-cycler – always check what you’re putting in the recycling can actually be recycled.

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