Wishcycling is putting something in the recycling bin and hoping it will be recycled, even if there is little evidence to confirm this assumption.
Hope is central to wishcycling. People may not be sure the system works, but they choose to believe that if they recycle an object, it will become a new product rather than being buried in a landfill, burned, or dumped.
The U.S. recycling industry was launched in the 1970s in response to public concern over litter and waste. The growth of recycling and collection programs changed consumers’ view of waste: It didn’t seem entirely bad if it could lead to the creation of new products via recycling.
Pro-recycling messaging from governments, corporations, and environmentalists promoted and reinforced recycling behavior. This was especially true for plastics that had resin identification codes inside a triangle of “chasing arrows,” indicating that the item was recyclable—even though that was usually far from the truth. In fact, only resins #1 (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) and #2 (high-density polyethylene, or HDPE) are relatively easy to recycle and have viable markets. The others are hard to recycle, so some jurisdictions don’t even collect them.