Report shows UK’s most ‘wishcycled’ items, as calls for retailers to do more grow

Every month, thousands of people all over the UK try to avoid ‘wishcycling’ – but wind up doing it anyway. With instances of recycling contamination on the rise, and some parts of the country making it harder than others to recycle different goods and packaging, specialist used cardboard box suppliers Sadlers are taking a look at the items that cause the most confusion – and at helping people to recycle from home.

  • 84% of households contaminate their recycling due to wishcycling – the act of recycling something even when we’re not entirely sure what can or should be recycled

  • Polystyrene is the most confusing item, with 3,620 monthly searches around whether it can be recycled

  • The second-most confusing item is bubble wrap, closely followed by blister packs, both receiving over 1,000 UK searches a month for terms like ‘can I recycle’ and ‘can you recycle’

“Wishcycling, despite our good intentions, can actually cause more harm than good.” says Lauren Sadler,  Head of Sustainability & Communications at Sadlers.”We risk contaminating the entire batch when we toss items into the recycling bin without knowing if they’re truly recyclable. Contamination leads to problems at recycling facilities and even results in perfectly recyclable items ending up in landfills.”

Sadlers have pulled together some of the common causes of uncertainty, noting the number of people in the UK searching online each month to get answers to queries including ‘can I recycle’ and ‘can you recycle’:

  1. Polystyrene – 3620

  2. Bubble wrap – 1370

  3. Blister packs – 1130

  4. Shredded paper – 790

  5. Clothes – 600

CDs, CD cases, books and pizza boxes also appear in the top 10.

Given the vastly differing recycling policies and strategies across the UK, it is no wonder that consumers are struggling to work out what exactly they can recycle in their local area. Take the case of thin black plastic. Optical scanners often mistake black plastic for the black conveyor belt, leading to its rejection. Currently, only Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire recycle this specific type of plastic effectively, with the rest of the UK counties lacking the necessary infrastructure.

Most wishcycled items

Wishcycling doesn’t only refer to cases when we’re not quite sure whether an item can be recycled, it also includes times when we put something in the recycling bin knowing that it likely won’t be recycled. A survey of over 3,000 people living in the UK found that these are the top 10 items that are frequently wishcycled, and what percentage of household do so:

  1. Drinking glasses – 33%

  2. Foil pouches – 29%

  3. Toothpaste tubes – 26%

  4. Plastic film lids – 24%

  5. Tissues and paper towels – 22%

  6. Glass cookware – 22%

  7. Clingfilm – 20%

  8. Plastic toys – 18%

  9. Plastic frozen veg bags – 18%

  10. Thin plastic carrier bags – 17%

“It’s essential to understand what wishcycling means and why we should try to avoid it.” says Lauren, “You can play your part in reducing waste and preserving our environment by learning more about recycling guidelines specific to your area and making informed decisions about what you place in the recycling bin.”

The best UK regions for recycling

The areas with the best recycling policy, are Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and East Sussex. This is based on what is recyclable in each area, the individual policy, how easy and accessible waste information can be assessed on local council websites and the total expenditure spent on recycling processes.

  1. Leicestershire

  2. Gloucestershire

  3. East Sussex


Policies are one thing, but how do different regions fare with recycling rates?

The top five local authorities for recycling rate

  1. Three Rivers District Council – 63.5%

  2. South Oxfordshire District Council – 62.7%

  3. East Devon District Council – 61%

  4. Stockport MBC – 60.3%

  5. East Riding of Yorkshire Council – 60.1%

The bottom five local authorities for recycling rate

  1. Nottingham City Council – 25.3%

  2. Dartford Borough Council – 24.3%

  3. Birmingham City Council (West Midlands) – 22.8%

  4. Tower Hamlets LB (London) – 19.7%

  5. Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council – 17.7%

How to improve your recycling

As recycling policies are so vastly different in each region, the only way to improve your recycling is by reviewing your local policy. Not sure what your local council recycles? You can use this tool to find out. Other tips include:

  • avoid wishcycling by only putting recyclable items in your recycling bin

  • rinse any items that have food residue before you put them in the recycling bin

  • ensure that cardboard waste is dry

  • squash down bottles and other large items to reduce volume

  • separate combined items such as paper and plastic

  • demand more from companies, support businesses that have sustainable packaging

Take a look at the full recycling and wishcycling guide to find out more about regional differences, as well as top tips for businesses on reducing their packaging waste.