8 Common Recycling Mistakes - Is your recycling knowledge up to date?

Recycling rules change constantly and vary by county, so it’s no wonder that many of us fall into the ‘wish cycling’ trap with some council reports showing that up to 35.8% of their recycling is contaminated* - resulting from the wrong or unwashed items being put in the recycling bin.

Many products, such as complex plastics, also aren’t recycled through your local council or traditional recycling facilities, which comes down to the higher cost of recycling these products (read more about it here).

So how do you know what you can and can not recycle locally, and how do you prevent everything else from going to landfill or incineration? To make it easy, we have created a helpful list below. 

Firstly, what CAN you recycle at home:

There are three main types of plastic that are commonly recycled by local facilities, which are #1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), #2 High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and #3 Polypropylene (PP).These types of plastics are commonly used for water bottles, milk jugs and trays (with caps, pumps, and spouts removed), but any item with small and complex parts or colours and additives are generally not recyclable via kerbside.

Image via https://www.which.co.uk/

Recycling varies by county and even town. For the most up-to-date list of what you can put in your bin, please search your area on the government's website here.

What you typically CAN’T recycle at home:

1.  Waxed Paper and Cartons 

This Tetra Pak material, a combination of paper and plastic, is used for products such as dairy-free milk alternatives, liquid stocks or soups. Tetra Pak can be recycled with most councils in the UK once flattened, but it's best to double-check here before adding it to the recycling bin in your area.

2.   Spray Bottle Triggers, Pumps or Spouts or Caps  

Plastic products with small or complex parts often need to be removed before popping your #1 and #2 plastic bottles in the recycling, though there are some exceptions so please check your area here.
Better yet, consider reusing the bottles in order to bring a second life to the plastic packaging. Take your old bottles to zero waste refill stores or buy products in concentrate form (just add water!) in order to reuse containers you already have at home.

3.   Takeaway containers with grease or food residue 

Takeaway paper or plastic containers such as pizza boxes or fish and chip boxes can't be recycled due to food contamination. Throw these items directly into your rubbish bin. 

Styrofoam takeaway containers, while technically made of plastic, can not be recycled locally either, due to the high cost of recycling packaging that’s mostly air. However, if you produce a high quantity of this rubbish, purchase one of our Zero Waste Boxes that accepts polystyrene as a type of waste.

4.   Plastic Carrier Bags 

Reusable carrier bags are recyclable, but not in local councils, only via supermarket take-back schemes or Zero Waste Box. Use the Plastic Packaging Zero Waste Box as a convenient and simple solution to recycle carrier bags or any other type of plastic packaging waste you accumulate in your home. 

5.   Black Plastic Packaging 

Most black plastic packaging is coloured using carbon black pigments which cannot be sorted using Near Infra-Red (NIR) recycling technology. Because of this, black packaging is diverted to landfills or incinerators. Steer clear of buying black plastic packaging if possible to avoid filling landfills unnecessarily. 

6.   Plastic Straws and Utensils 

Straws and disposable plastic utensils are not recyclable through your local kerbside due to their small size. These items are too small for the recycling sorting machines and will fall out in the process. To recycle these items you can use any of our Zero Waste Boxes that accept straws and/or plastic utensils.

7.   Windows, Mirrors, or Broken Glass 

Broken glass, mirrors and windows are not recyclable for a number of reasons. For starters, any type of broken glass is not recyclable due to the hazards it places on those working for recycling facilities. And glass from mirrors, windows or lightbulbs is not recyclable due to the chemicals they contain. 

8.   Bubble Wrap 

Similar to carrier bags and other flexible plastic packaging, bubble wrap is not recyclable through local councils. To recycle your shipping materials such as bubble wrap use the Shipping Materials or the All-in-One Zero Waste Boxes.

What materials are you guilty of throwing in the wrong bin?  Let us know in the comments below. Until our next blog post, Happy Recycling! 

*Source: Contaminated recycling could cost County Durham taxpayers 'millions' - BBC News

**Source: How to recycle in the UK - Which?


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  • Hi Kateryna,

    Thank you for your question! Crisp packets are sent to our MRF in the UK, size-reduced (made smaller by being shredded or ground), then melted and reformatted into pellets, flakes, or a powder format. After we ensure the waste is recycled into the raw material, it is sold to manufacturing companies who produce end-products, completing the journey of recycling. These end products may include outdoor furniture and decking, plastic shipping pallets, watering cans, storage containers and bins, tubes for construction applications, flooring tiles, playgrounds and athletic fields, and much more. Read more about the process here: https://zerowasteboxes.terracycle.co.uk/pages/how-we-recycle-1

    Thanks for recycling,
    The Zero Waste Box™ Team

    Zero Waste Box™
  • how do you recycle crisp packets?

    kateryna liddle
  • Hi Jill, great questions!

    To clarify, when we say something is ‘non-recycled’ we mean not traditionally accepted by local council recycling programs. TerraCycle has developed recycling processes for typically non-recycled items, one of these items being soft flexible plastics (i.e. crisp packets and salad bags). Thankfully, supermarkets are now also tackling this issue and bringing more recycling schemes into their stores. We’re very pleased to see soft plastic collection points becoming more popular. What differentiates TerraCycle from other recycling companies, is we recycle 100% of what we receive. If we can’t recycle it, we don’t accept it and nothing gets incinerated. 

    As for recycling your sports gel wrappers we currently have a free recycling program running with HIGH5 which you can learn more about here, in order to recycle those wrappers: https://www.terracycle.com/en-GB/brigades/high5-uk

    The Terracycle owned company, Loop, has a partnership with Tesco to purchase products in reusable and durable packaging, but we do not run their in-store recycling scheme. Thanks again for recycling

    Zero Waste Box™

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