The dos and don'ts for recycling in the UK

Scratching your head about how to recycle properly? We’re here to break it down!

If you've ever felt overwhelmed by the do's and don'ts of recycling or found yourself scratching your head over what can and can't go in the bin, fear not – we've got you covered.  

Let’s unravel the mysteries of recycling, debunk common myths, share essential tips and tricks, and shed light on where exactly your recyclables end up.  

Decoding the basics: What can you recycle?

With the best intentions, many of us often fall into the trap of 'wishcycling' – tossing items into the recycling bin in hopes that they'll magically get recycled, only to find out later that they're contaminating the process.

Let's start with the fundamentals. Understanding what can and can't be recycled is key to effective recycling. Here's a breakdown of the main materials accepted for recycling in the UK:

  • Paper and Cardboard: Newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes – these are all commonly accepted for recycling. Remember to remove any plastic packaging or inserts and flatten cardboard to save space in your recycling bin.
  • Plastics: While not all plastics are recyclable, most councils in the UK accept rigid plastics, plastic bottles (and the bottle caps!), containers, and tubs. Look for recycling symbols on packaging and give them a quick rinse before recycling.
  • Glass: Glass bottles and jars are easily recyclable in the UK. However, broken glass or ceramics should be disposed of separately to avoid contaminating recycling streams.
  • Metals: Aluminium cans, steel cans, and foil (remember the bigger the foil the better!) are all recyclable materials. Make sure to rinse them out and crush cans to save space.

Expert tips for recycling success

Now that you know what materials you can recycle, let's delve into some expert tips and tricks to help you recycle like a pro:

  • Familiarise yourself with local guidelines: Recycling regulations can vary between councils, so it's important to know the specific guidelines for your area. Websites like Recycle Now provide valuable information to help you understand what can be recycled locally.
  • Reduce contamination: Contaminated recycling can cause issues at recycling facilities, so be sure to rinse out containers and remove any food or liquid residue before recycling. That means no overly greasy pizza boxes!
  • Explore alternative recycling options: In addition to curb side recycling, many supermarkets and recycling centres accept items like plastic bags, batteries, and electronics for recycling. Take advantage of these facilities to ensure that nothing goes to waste. You can find these options on your local council website.  
  • Stay informed: Keep up to date with the latest recycling news and developments in the UK. Follow reputable sources such as government websites and environmental organisations to stay informed about recycling best practices and industry updates.

Discover 6 surprising items you can recycle

Every day, there are moments where we scratch our heads as we read the backs of products to try and figure out if this particular piece of packaging can be recycled. Here we’ve collated a list of things that you might not realise can be recycled (and how to recycle them!).

  • Contact lense packaging: This can be recycled with SpecSavers, just simply bring your packaging to one their stores.  
  • Cosmetics: Boots takes all makeup packaging that can be recycled and works with a UK-based company that transforms it into construction board. Boots also takes the pumps from soap and other bottles which can’t be recycled normally!  
  • Insulin pens: Boots and Superdrug have a recycling scheme that takes these for you.  
  • Pet food pouches: These can be taken to any supermarket that collects soft plastics or Pets at Home also will recycle any brand. Just remember to rinse them out first!
  • Coffee pods: While it’s always better to make coffee without using the pods, there are some options now to help recycle them. Check out Pod Back to see if they cater to your local area or pick up special recycling bags from Morrisons, Ocado or a participating company which can then be sent back using Yodel’s Collect Service.  
  • Vapes: Vapes are becoming one of the biggest waste contributors in the UK with over 1.3 million thrown away every week. Find a recycling point here and help be part of the solution!

Where does your recycling go?

Once collected, your recyclables go to recycling facilities. Here, they're sorted, cleaned, and processed into raw materials ready to be used in the production of new products. Glass gets melted down, paper gets pulped, and plastics get shredded and melted into pellets. These materials are then sold to manufacturers who turn them into new products, completing the recycling loop.

However, of the 26 million tonnes of waste the UK produces a year, only 12 million tonnes are recycled, giving us an average 45% recycling rate. Previously, the UK had a target of achieving a 50% recycling rate by 2020 but we are yet to achieve this.  

It’s important we continue to work toward this ambition and increase our own personal commitment. Remember, every small action counts, so let's work together to make a positive impact on our environment, one recycled item at a time!

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