What is Wishcycling?

Wishcycling is basically wishful thinking for recycling: throwing things in the recycling bin with the ‘better safe than sorry’ philosophy. It’s the idea that no matter what, the attempt to recycle is better than throwing items in the garbage.

Before we start condemning all the wishcyclers out there, their intentions are pure – they want to avoid sending packaging and other items to the landfill and so try to recycle as much as they can. And truthfully, most city recycling programs could do a MUCH better job communicating what materials they accept + don’t accept to make everyone’s life easier. Hopefully, the goal in the future will be to make recycling super easy and transparent so citizens don’t have to guess or dig for the info!


So, why is it a problem?

The problem: when recycling streams become contaminated with trash, the costs of collection and processing go way up. With rising costs, these facilities start losing money and as a result of this issue, over 40% of the facilities in the U.S. have been forced to close down in the last five years.

With no recycling facilities, everything would wind up in the landfill. Without recycling, 1.25 million people would lose their jobs, and 2.5 million virgin plastics bottles would have to be made every hour in the U.SVirgin plastics generate heat-trapping gases at every stage of their life cycle. As plastic breaks down in landfills and oceans, they release damaging greenhouse gases into the environment. And on a less visible level, as ocean plankton consume more microplastics, they’re less able to do their vital job of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And more carbon dioxide means faster heating of the planet. 

So, while wishcycling is well-intentioned, it needs to stop so we can keep recycling (and our planet) alive.  

How to fix the problem

If we all learn what can and can’t be recycled + the rules of recycling, wishcycling will end easily! Then, once you know the ins and outs of recycling (more on that below), try to buy items with recyclable packaging or no packaging at all if possible! And #justsayno to single-use, non-recyclable plastics. 


The golden rules of recycling

  1. All packaging must be empty, squeaky clean, and dry. The companies that buy recyclables will only accept 95% uncontaminated materials. 
  1. Mixed materials have to be separated. Sometimes one part of a package (like the pump) should go in the trash, while another part (the clear plastic bottle) can be recycled.
  1. Every city does it different – check on your city’s website or give your local recycling program a call to double check what they will and won’t accept.

What can be recycled (most of the time). Always check with your local city program.

  • #1,2, and 5 plastics 
  • Plastic and cardboard
  • Clear and frosted glass
  • Aluminum packaging

What can pretty much never be recycled. Again, check with your city program just in case!

  • Flexible thin plastic packaging – think chip bags, soup/juice pouches.
  • Black plastic
  • Straws
  • Super tiny plastic containers (smaller than a yogurt cup)
  • Plastic wrap, plastic bags, sandwich bags, or bubble wrap
  • Dirty packaging (grease-stained pizza boxes)
  • Cups with wax or plastic coating
  • Foam + most plastic takeout containers
  • Mixed materials that can’t be separated 

The beauty packaging recycling solution: Pact Collective

Beauty is one of the most wasteful industries on the planet, taking up 1/3 of all landfill space, and producing over 120 billion units of mostly unrecyclable packaging every year. And since most beauty buyers are unsure how to dispose of their empties, cosmetics makes up a big portion of the wishcycling issue. 

While the ultimate solution is more sustainable packaging overall, the immediate solution is Pact Collective, a non-profit recycling program founded by beauty industry members. It was created to recycle hard-to-recycle beauty packaging PLUS work with packaging designers, brands, and policy makers to make beauty packaging more sustainable overall (the end goal). 

How it works: you can take your pact-approved (see their takeback guidelines) unrecyclable, clean + empty beauty packaging to collection bins at Credo Beauty in the U.S. or HBC in Canada. Once these bins are full, they’re shipped to Pact’s facility where they sort the materials and find the highest and best use for that packaging. Their long-term goal is to create a circular system in the beauty industry so that all beauty packaging can be turned into new beauty packaging.

Although ATHR Beauty products are all recyclable in standard city bins, if you don’t have access to recycling where you live, you can either use the drop-off option above or ship your ATHR empties directly to Pact.


Thank you, as always for supporting a more sustainable beauty industry and planet <3

-ATHR Beauty xo

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