Recycling can be confusing and because in 2016 the UK generated over 222 million tonnes of waste (12% being household waste), it’s important we get the hang of it. Only 45.7% of household waste was recycled in 2017 even though there is potential for a lot more to be recycled. Recycling reduces the demand for new natural resources and, therefore, protects the environment from further damage caused by extracting the raw materials and processing them (which causes both air and water pollution). Greenhouse gas emissions are also cut when waste is recycled. Current UK recycling saves more than 18 million tonnes of CO2 from being produced along with a large amount of energy. Waste that is sent to landfill produces methane as it breaks down – so increasing recycling rates, reduces the environmental impact of the waste sat in landfill. Since it’s clear that recycling is an important part of protecting our environment, I’ve included what I consider the most important info to simplify everything about recycling.
A few things you can recycle:
- Glass jars/bottles.
- Metal cans and tins.
- Foil/foil trays.
- Empty aerosol cans.
- Metal lids.
- Empty bleach bottles and cleaning sprays with the trigger spray.
- Aluminium tubes without the plastic lid.
- Paper envelopes with plastic windows.
- Different types of batteries.
A few things you can’t recycle:
- Greasy pizza boxes – rip the lid off and recycle that!
- Crisp packets (unless you send them off to a dedicated scheme).
- Soft plastic/laminated foil packaging.
- Wrapping paper with foil or glitter.
- Hand soap pump handles.
- Plastic straws.
This list does not mean all of these things can go in your household recycling bins, but it does mean there are ways to recycle them.
Unfortunately, there is no nationwide recycling scheme. Instead, local recycling differs depending on where you live. Luckily, I discovered this handy website Recycle Now, which allows you to type in your postcode and find out exactly what can go in your bins. Putting the wrong stuff in the wrong bin is called contamination. Contamination can mean the whole lorry is sent to landfill because it is no longer cost-effective to sort the waste.
Ways to reduce contamination:
- Know what your council collects.
- Check the label – lots of plastics are not recyclable along with many other mixed material packaging.
- Leave metal and plastic lids on as long as they are accepted by your scheme (even I didn’t know this until I did my research).
- Remove film plastics from plastic trays.
- Recycle cardboard and paper sleeves/labels separately.
- Empty and rinse everything!
- If, after doing a bit of research, you’re still not sure: don’t recycle it.
Whilst I’m in Lincoln recycling is pretty easy since the council accepts quite a large amount of items for recycling in my area and they all go in one bin. The same can’t be said for Sheffield where recycling, especially plastic recycling is limited – leaving a large amount of recyclable plastic to go to landfill. Regardless of what your council accepts, lots of large supermarkets and other organisations have their own independent recycling collection centres where you can take the items that are not collected as part of your local recycling scheme. Again, these can be found through the Recycle Now website, along with what materials they accept.
I was originally going to breakdown all the possible recycling symbols you might find on packaging to make it a little simpler, but Recycle Now have a really easy to read page dedicated to exactly that – check it out here.
Now I want to delve into the world of plastic recycling because it isn’t particularly simple. Almost all plastic food packaging is marked with what is known as a Plastic Resin Code which allows the 6 most common types of plastics to be identified. As not all packaging specifies whether it can be recycled or not, understanding these codes can save you unnecessarily throwing recyclable plastics into landfill.
- PET/PETE (plastic code 1) is used for clear drinks bottles, food packaging and textiles. Food packaging made from this plastic is recycled by most councils.
- HDPE (plastic code 2) is used for milk, shampoo and cleaning product bottles and is, again, recycled by most councils.
- PVC (plastic code 3) is used to make large juice bottles along with drainage pipes and toys. Although not generally collected from households for recycling, less and less PVC is being used in packaging so it is not too much of a concern.
- LDPE (plastic code 4) is mostly used for carrier bags, but can be used for hard plastic containers. Carriers bags can be recycled at large supermarkets.
- PP (plastic code 5) is used for bottle tops, tubs such as margarine tubs and some carrier bags. Check your local kerbside recycling and nearby recycling centres for options.
- PS (plastic code 6) is used for takeaway trays/pots and protective packaging. Check your local kerbside recycling and nearby recycling centres for options.
- Other (plastic code 7) includes the remaining less common plastics.
These codes are often either printed or stamped onto packaging and aren’t always immediately noticeable. You only need to worry about these if there aren’t any recycling labels to tell you what you can do with it. Even then, when checking to see whether different plastic items can be recycled, Recycle Now lets your search by the type of item rather than the type of plastic.
Make recycling a habit:
- Set up a recycling system in your house, rather than just relying on your outdoor bins. You’ll be less inclined to throw away recyclables if it is just as easy to put them in a dedicated indoor recycling bin.
- Reuse what you can for as long as you can.
- Expand your concept of what recycling is. Learn about whether, how and where unusual items can be recycled.
- Recycle or donate old clothes – don’t bin them.
- Do the same with electricals.
- Encourage those you live with to recycle.
- Continue your recycling habits outside of your home, for example encourage your workplace to make recycling easier.
I’m now always aware of whether the products I’m buying can be recycled or not, and for those with packaging that is not yet recycled, I make a conscious effort to avoid buying them and find alternatives. Importantly, a focus on recycling highlights exactly how much waste we produce – both recyclable and non-recyclable – allowing us to make a change to reduce how much stuff we use and throw away.
Getting recycling right requires a bit of time and dedication but, to me, that isn’t much of a sacrifice to make when the impact of recycling can be huge if everyone joins in.