Feature Stories


Robert Hood


Don’t be a Wish-Cycler! Help UCSF by Recycling Properly

Are you a wish-cycler? Do you know what a wish-cycler is? We’ll let Isabel Jauregui, sustainability analyst at the UC San Francisco Medical Center, explain.

“Wishful recycling or wish-cycling is when somebody places something into the recycle bin without checking if it’s even recyclable because they hope recycling facilities will find a use for it,” Jauregui said. “This is often done with good intentions but, unfortunately, it causes a lot more problems for the recycling sector.”

Here are a few reasons why:

  • It can actually contaminate the contents already in the bin and cause the whole bin to get rejected – thereby ending up in the landfill.
  • It can damage the equipment (i.e. plastic bags that are commonly thrown in the recycling bin can jam the conveyer belt).

“The best thing we can do for the recycling sector is to educate ourselves on what’s actually recyclable and then follow through with that behavior,” she said. “If we really want said cardboard or paper cub to get recycled, then we need to make sure that we don’t contaminate the bins with things that don’t belong there.”

UCSF makes it easy to educate yourself when it comes to recycling. Go to zerowaste.ucsf.edu and you’ll find an interactive quiz where you can test your recycling knowledge. UCSF Health has a website under construction that has useful resources such as a presentation on new waste diversion standards; an informative video from Recology that looks inside a trash audit; bin signage, posters, and more.

A common item that confuses people when it comes to recycling is food containers. Daniel Chau, Recycling and Waste Reduction Program Manager at Facilities Services on the UCSF campus, said Recology recommends wiping down “recyclable” food containers with a napkin so the food and napkin can go into the compost bin while the plastic containers go into recycling.

“Using water to rinse the container is not necessary,” Chau said. “There are a lot of people who are mindful of water usage so we don’t waste water.”

When it comes to food containers, Jauregui said cups, lids and clamshell to-go containers from salad bars are acceptable. Yogurt containers, soup cans, soymilk, ice cream cartons, and juice boxes are other items that can be recycled.

“Coffee cups, lids and sleeves are all recyclable,” Jauregui said. “Generally, paper cups should go into recycling, Styrofoam cups into the trash and compostable-labeled cups can go into compost.”

Jauregui said the most common contaminant in the hospital’s recycling stream is disposable gloves and masks. “Disposable gloves, gowns, masks, and eyewear should be disposed of in the trash bin.”
Chau said several buildings at Mission Bay passed a Recology inspection in early March though he said improvements can be made. “One of the biggest issues was placing recyclable material in plastic bags. Keeping our recycling and compost stream clean is important to avoid costly fines.”

Chau said some of the common items found in the wrong bins on the UCSF campus include paper towels and PPE. “All PPE should be in the garbage, not the recycling,” he said. “Paper towels should always be in the compost, not the recycling.”

By following a few simple steps, the UCSF community can make a big difference when it comes to recycling. Check out the 2021 Earth Month Challenge for additional recycling and waste reduction tips!