Published: April 1, 2021 By

Wishful recycling, or Wishcycling is the act of tossing something in your recycling bin with the mere hopes that it is recyclable.

Recycling is more complicated than that. There are very specific “do’s and don’ts” that make or break whether the materials in your recycling bin are kept out of landfills and re-used. Many are unaware of these tricky rules of recycling, which is why recycling contamination is such a huge issue; even at CU’s Recycling Operations Center! Don’t be a wishful recycler. Follow this guide to ensure that your recycling isn’t contaminated.

How does “Wishcycling” take a toll on the recycling process?

  • It leads to contamination. When unrecyclable material is mixed with recyclable material

    • It can damage machines that are dangerous to fix.

    • It can force otherwise usable material to the landfill.

  • Makes it harder for workers to handle materials

  • Ruins materials for end markets

    • Some materials get downcycled with too much contamination, thus decreasing the value and options to turn into new materials

    • Some materials have to go to the landfill if they are too contaminated

Hard to Recycle Materials (HaRMs)

Some materials are recyclable, but not to be put in your standard recycling bin. 

  • Electronics

  • They can cause hazardous waste to leach into material and soil/water after eventually ending up in the landfill.

  • CU has options for recycling e-waste. Check it out here.

  • Plastic bags

  • Plastics with resin codes #3, #4, or #6 are recyclable, but often only for a special collection of “hard to recycle” materials. 

  • Random Items

    • Bike parts, styrofoam, yoga mats, you name it! If in doubt about how to recycle an item

    • Check out eco-cycle’s CHaRM, Boulder’s Center for Hard to Recycle Material

Recycling can be tricky!  Below is a guide for the more "traditional", but still confusing, materials.


  • Plastic bottles, tubs, and jars with resin codes 1-5 (number located inside the recycling symbol on most plastics)

    • Empty out all liquids and screw the caps back on!

    • Larger, flat plastic lids can also go into the bin separately

  • Metal containers are easily melted and reshaped into new items.

    • Remove lids and rinse aluminum cans

  • Glass… all colors

    • Remove metal caps/lids and put them in the recycle bin too!

  • Cartons and Juice Boxes

    • These items have their own facility to process them into new materials, separating the paper from the metal lining and other plastic!

  • Remember to empty all liquids and rinse out all materials before recycling, as much as possible!

    • The lower the food/liquid residuals, the less contamination, and the greater chance of getting recycled!


  • Office papers, mail, paperboard, and newspapers/magazines can all be recycled easily and effectively

    • On campus at CU, we have the ability to recycled shredded paper, but we NEED it put in a bag and then put into a recycle bin… its the only time we want a plastic bag in your normal recycle bin!

    • Off campus, you cannot recycle shredded paper in your curbside bin… put it into your Compost bin!

  • DO NOT recycle the following:

    • Paper towels… the paper is very low quality and is often soiled or contaminated

    • Paper cups… they have a plastic lining on the inside that makes them not recyclable 

    • Frozen food boxes… they have a “chemical wet strength” coating the paper fibers to protect the product inside, but it makes them not recyclable 

    • Bright, Neon, or Heavily Dyed paper… its like a red sock in your white laundry load and it will contaminate the paper recycling process


  • Flattened Boxes

    • Remove any packaging, food, etc and then flatten

    • Tape is okay    

  • Pizza Boxes

    • Remove any food or other items and flatten

    • Small amounts of grease are okay

    • If there is an excessive amount of grease and cheese, plase compost the box

  • Paperboard boxes

  • Single layer boxes from cereal, tissues, etc are okay to go with cardboard

  • Remove inside contents and flatten

  • They can also go into any “Paper” or “Single Stream” bin as well, so whatever is available


  • While there are many items that cannot be recycled and must go to the landfill, here are some common contaminants that are victims of being Wishcycled… keep them OUT of your recycle bin!

  • Plastic bags (grocery bags, ziplock bags, chip bags, trash bags, etc) 

    • Must be taken to a plastic bag recycling station at the grocery store or other HaRM recycling location to be recycled 

    • Also… DO NOT put recyclables in a plastic trash bag and then in your recycle bin… it makes it really hard to get them out later

  • Wrappers/ packets

  • Frozen food boxes

  • Paper cups for coffee, fountain soda, etc


  • Keep these OUT of your recycle bin!

  • Compost any food waste, paper towels, napkins, and wood as well as industrially compostable materials. 

  • Plastics with resin code #7 PLA are COMPOSTABLE! 

    • If you do not have a compost bin, they, unfortunately, have to go in the trash. 

    • DO NOT put them in your recycle bin… they will ruin the plastic recycling process

  • Keep an eye out for “compostable” symbols and labels on products as well!

  • Pizza boxes with lots of grease/cheese attached also belong in the compost.

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