I’ve often been frustrated with the lack of clarity on packaging as to whether it can be recycled, so I decided to write this summary guide to finally settle the score and to help anyone who’s in the same position. As it says on tin, this article covers what, where and how to recycle, with plenty of links to sources where you can find considerably more info, should you wish to research further. I would love to hear your experiences and ideas about recycling and how we could improve it here in the UK (and globally).
91% of global waste ends up in landfillGlobal rate of recycling is 9%, i.e. 91% ends up in landfill or dumped in poorer nations, where what can’t be reclaimed is simply burned resulting in higher rates of local respiratory and cancer diseases. Shilpi Chhotray** of Break free from plastic.
WHAT: The core material categories are listed below, and will be divided into more detail with symbols specific to each material, and typical recycling options for each (i.e. recycling bins or recycling centres) in the where section of this article.
- Paper & Cardboard
All recycling materials should be clean in order to be effectively recycled. This means no greasy pizza boxes or tins with a few baked beans left at the bottom. Recycling facilities have difficulty recycling smaller items (or more specifically sorting them), which means items much smaller than a fist size will struggle to be recycled efficiently (Martin Bourque** – Ecology Expert). The exception to the rule is things like bottle tops (if kept together), because the bottle (glass or plastic) can be sorted effectively, with lids and tops removed at a later process.
WHERE: Depending on your local council, different materials may or may not be accepted in your recycling bin, however I’ll list the most commonly accepted materials here, and those that are likely to be accepted at bigger recycling centres. For specific location material or location information, use the “recyclenow” recycling locator tool, alternatively recycle-more have a map style locator tool. FYI this only concerns plastics, as most councils will accept aluminium, glass and paper-based recycling as a minimum.
HOW: The condition of recycling, as mentioned before should always be cleaned- with bottles and jars you can fill with a little water, close, shake, empty, then repeat the process a few times until it is clear of any remaining product. Tinned or canned food usually required a little bit of a scrub, so these can be washed up after washing up the normal dishes. I’ve read mixed views on whether to compress recycling or not, but I would be more on the cautious side and not compress it because that makes it easier for the sorting people and machines to easily identify it.
This article will be updated as the guidelines on recycling change, but if you know any of this information is out of date or different in your area, let me know in the comments or contact section, and I’ll update it accordingly.
The extent to which plastics are recycled depends upon economic and logistical factors. The most widely recycled plastics are the two used to make soft drinks bottles and milk bottles: PET and HDPE (Source: British Plastics Foundation 2020 – https://www.bpf.co.uk/sustainability/plastics_recycling.aspx).
- Plastic films are not widely recycled, so it’s best to remove them and dispose of separately so as not to contaminate the recycling
- Biodegradable plastics likewise should not be recycled, as they are batch contaminating*
- Plastic bags inc bread bags, cereal liners, shrink wrap, fruit and veg bags, bubble wrap and frozen good bags can all be recycled at carrier bag collection points (usually at supermarkets). Source: recyclenow.com.
- Black plastics are less recyclable because they have less recycled (new product) colour options
- Soap pumps are not typically recycled because they contain a mixture of small plastics, difficult to sort or clean. Source: Shilpi Chhotray** of Break free from plastic.
- Plastic resins are widely recycled and are identified by the following symbols:
*Batch contaminating is where the collected recyclable material is of one type, but a batch may be contaminated with another material e.g. non-recyclable biodegradable “plastic”, and consequently degrades the final product making it less usable.
Crisp packets can by recycled through the terracycle scheme, which claims to have collection points within 4 miles of 80% of UK households. You can view all their resources on their website, alternatively the map of recycling locations is embedded below:
Batteries should be recycled separately and most shops that sell them, like supermarkets, also should have a collection point for them too. If you own a business that sells batteries, imports them and or products containing them, you should review whether you need compliance or not. Battery collection points can also be found at town halls, libraries and schools, as well as your local household waste recycling centres. You can find more information on battery recycling at www.recycle-more.co.uk/recycling/batteries.
IT equipment can be recycled at large by numerous companies, but if it’s in full working order, why not give to charity or ask family and friends if anyone needs the equipment first. If there are no nearby takers, then companies like Stone Group (who dispose of it safely and securely, erasing sensitive data to the same standards as the MOD, and recycling or reusing hardware where possible) may be the best option especially for a large selection of office equipment, which you may qualify for rebates if in good working order too.
72% of British consumers would like to buy products made with recycled packaging2017, Mintel, Survey of 2,000 UK adults
Waste and recycling symbols indicate what the material is made of and how to dispose of or recycle it. Some of the range of symbols and their meanings are:
- Widely recycled applies to packaging that is collected by 75% of local authorities across the UK
- Mobius Loop indicates it is capable of being recycled, not that it will be accepted in all recycling collection systems. Sometimes this symbol is used with a percentage figure in the middle to explain that the packaging contains x% of recycled material.
- The Green Dot is attributed where there has been a financial commitment made to the recycling industry, but does not denote that the packaging has or can be recycled
- Forrest Stewardship Council logo identifies wood-based products from well managed forests independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC.
- Waste electronics simply need to be exposed of carefully and appropriately (recyclenow offer in-depth information on how to recycle your electronics).
- Compostable, means it can biodegrade in a relatively short time span, but does not always mean this can be done with garden compost, and may need industrial catalyst processes to speed it up. Your council may collect this along with garden and food waste.
More can be learnt about these symbols at www.recyclenow.com, but the basics are the following:
** Note citations from Shilpi Chhotray and Martin Bourque were taken from the BBC series “Beauty Laid Bare S1:1. The Industry 2020”.