Individual, corporate, and national wishcycling: Improving recycling in the U.S. by understanding its complexity

Eli Kramer* and Erez Yoeli

Edited by Bertrand J. Neyhouse

Review | Aug. 31 2023


DOI: 10.38105/spr.9p0zh6q3hm


  • Environmentally responsible people engage more widely in wishcycling, the tendency to err on the side of recycling.
  • Informational interventions can help reduce wishcycling.
  • Corporations and national governments tend to emphasize their recycling numbers without concern over the reality of plastic waste streams.
  • Regulation is needed at the consumer, corporate, and national levels to create a more efficient recycling system.

Article Summary

This review explores the phenomenon of ‘wishcycling’—a consequence of growing commitments to sustainable behaviors—and its impact on recycling contamination. While recycling rates have increased over the past six decades, high contamination rates have led to the closure of recycling programs and limited recycling of certain materials. Informational interventions as well as switching to a dual-stream recycling system would substantially reduce contamination. We discuss the role of individuals, corporations, and regulators in generating this problem. Further, we liken individual wishcycling to the recycling attitude of corporations and governments. We discuss policy options to address these issues.

Open Access


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Eli Kramer

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Erez Yoeli

Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA