California, long heralded as a trailblazer in environmental initiatives, now faces a critical juncture in its recycling practices. With over a dozen environmental groups representing one million concerned citizens, the state is urged to reevaluate its approach to recycling. The central demand is clear: California must cease accepting non-recyclable plastics in its blue bins.

The recycling landscape is marred by wishcycling, a well-intentioned yet problematic practice where a broad range of items, often non-recyclable, infiltrates the recycling stream. This not only complicates the sorting process but also poses significant challenges for developing nations that bear the burden of processing and disposing of non-usable plastics.

A poignant letter addressed to the Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling proposes a fundamental shift. It advocates for a restriction on recyclable plastic items, focusing on #1 PET bottles and #2 HDPE narrow-neck bottles and jugs. The objective is clear: streamline the recycling process by excluding non-recyclable components and reduce the burden on both the local and global waste management systems.

Rethinking Recycling

In the face of wishcycling’s unintended consequences, these environmental advocates champion a recalibration of California’s recycling approach. By limiting recyclable plastic items to #1 PET bottles and #2 HDPE narrow-neck bottles and jugs, the plea aims to alleviate the burden on recycling facilities, enhance efficiency, and address the downstream impact on developing nations. This call for change is not merely a localized concern; it reverberates globally, challenging the status quo of recycling norms. The forthcoming exploration delves into the intricacies of the plea, dissecting the challenges, proposing solutions, and envisioning a future where responsible recycling practices align with the broader goals of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Limiting Accepted Plastics

As the call for reevaluating recycling practices gains momentum, a pivotal element of this initiative takes the form of a letter directly addressed to the Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling. The essence of the letter revolves around the urgent need to narrow down the spectrum of acceptable recyclable plastic items. Specifically, the proposal advocates for confining acceptable items to #1 PET bottles and #2 HDPE narrow-neck bottles and jugs. This deliberate limitation aims to eliminate items with non-compatible components, such as clamshell packaging, PP5 materials, or aerosol containers that fall short of meeting California’s stringent criteria.

In essence, the letter stands as a tangible plea, urging a decisive shift toward a more focused and efficient recycling model. By delineating clear guidelines on accepted plastics, the aim is to streamline the recycling process, mitigate contamination, and contribute to a more sustainable and eco-conscious waste management system. This exploration delves into the motivations behind this strategic proposal, examining the potential implications for recycling efficiency, environmental impact, and the broader paradigm of responsible waste management.

A Call to Eliminate Wishcycling

The prevailing trend of wishcycling, characterized by the inclusion of a diverse array of items into the recycling stream, has prompted a critical call for reform. At the heart of this plea lies a fundamental desire to streamline the recycling process by curtailing the practice of wishcycling. Wishcycling, while well-intentioned, contributes to the complexity and prolongation of the sorting process, imposing challenges on recycling facilities.

The proposed solution advocates for a more focused approach by limiting the spectrum of accepted items in the recycling stream. By adhering to this strategy, the recycling process stands to gain efficiency, with reduced contamination and a heightened ability to handle only truly recyclable materials. This exploration delves into the intricacies of wishcycling, dissecting its impact on recycling operations and envisioning a future where a more refined and targeted recycling process aligns with sustainability goals.

Global Impact

The ramifications of accepting non-recyclable items in California’s recycling bins reverberate globally, placing an unjust burden on developing nations. As these nations receive exported recycling, they grapple with a significant influx of non-usable plastic. California, contributing 27% of the United States’ plastic waste, persists in exporting plastic waste despite the global imperative for responsible waste management.

A Call for Industry Accountability

The impassioned plea from environmental groups challenges the prevailing narrative propagated by the plastic industry. It emphatically asserts that recycling should not be relegated solely to the realm of individual responsibility. Instead, a resounding call echoes through the halls of environmental advocacy – an urgent summons for the industry to shoulder the responsibility for its products.

It shines a spotlight on the imperativeness of a collective shift from the comfort of single-use plastic towards more sustainable alternatives – ones that are reusable, refillable, and devoid of excessive packaging. The discussion encapsulates a pivotal moment in the ongoing battle against plastic pollution, where accountability becomes the linchpin for a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

The Path Forward

While a statewide refusal to accept certain plastics may initially shock eco-conscious individuals, it could become a catalyst for broader change. This shift may create the necessary pressure for companies to redesign their packaging, fostering innovation and reducing reliance on single-use plastics. John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA, acknowledges that a crackdown may lead to a temporary increase in plastic sent to domestic landfills. However, he sees it as a crucial step toward encouraging a transition to reusable, refillable, and package-free approaches, challenging the current throwaway mindset.

Hocevar notes a growing discomfort with the throwaway culture, particularly among younger generations. The call for a crackdown aligns with the need to shift towards sustainable practices and challenges the pervasive idea that all plastic waste is effectively recycled. While the transition might be uncomfortable for consumers, the letter emphasizes that it would cease the ongoing deception surrounding recycling. It aims to address contamination, inefficiency, and pollution caused by wishcycling while pushing for a fundamental shift in product design and consumer habits.


The urgent plea from environmental groups highlights the need for California to reevaluate its recycling practices. The proposed changes aim not only to improve the efficiency of the recycling process within the state but also to address the global consequences of exporting non-usable plastic. The path forward involves a collective responsibility, challenging industries to adopt sustainable practices and consumers to embrace a culture of reuse and responsibility. It’s a pivotal moment for California to lead the way in creating a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.