Recycling doesn't need to be confusing, but with so many different types of products and materials, as well as multiple symbols on packaging, it's no wonder some people give up before they've even reached the recycling bin. To help simplify things, we've put together a list of what you can and can't recycle.
Recycling - it's confusing right? Wrong!

In 2016, WRAP (a registered charity that works with businesses, individuals and communities to help them reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way) conducted a survey to find out people's thoughts on recycling.

The results show there's a bit of confusion out there around what can and can't be recycled.

Here are some highlights from the survey:

  • Two thirds of all UK households are not sure which bin to use for one or more items;

  • Almost half of all UK households throw away one or more items that could in fact be recycled;
  • Just over two thirds of all UK households put things in the recycling which can't be recycled.

But don't worry - we're here to help! Check out each of the following sections to find out more about what you can and can't recycle.

A word of warning! Remember that your local council might not be able to collect certain items for recycling, so double check locally if you're not sure.

 

What to do with paper and card

All types of paper and card can be recycled. Right? Wrong! Most paper and card can be recycled, but there are some common mistakes people make...

So what types of paper and card can be recycled?

  • Newspapers, magazines, brochures and catalogues

  • White paper, included shredded
  • Telephone directories
  • Leaflets, flyers and envelopes (including ones which have windows!)
  • Brown paper
  • Non-shiny wrapping paper
  • Cardboard boxes - think cereal boxes, dishwasher tablet boxes and your Amazon delivery boxes

Remember to...

  • Remove the plastic wrapping that some magazines come in, as this can't be recycled
  • Keep your paper dry. If it gets wet, it can't be recycled

There are some common culprits which end up in the paper recycling instead of the bin. Here are some of the frequent offenders:

  • Greasy paper/card - such as pizza boxes and oily takeaway containers
  • Tissues, wet wipes and used paper towels
  • Nappies and sanitary pads
  • Cotton wool and make up pads
  • Sticky paper - including post-it notes and sticky labels
  • Shiny or glittery wrapping paper and gift bags

Good to know

  • If you scrunch paper and it doesn't spring back, it means you can recycle it. Watch the scrunch test

  • Greasy paper and card can't be recycled because the fibres can't be separated from the oils during the recycling process - so no takeaway containers please!!

 

What to do with plastic bottles

First off, what types of bottle can you recycle?

  • Milk bottles

  • Drinks bottles - coke, water, smoothies and so on
  • Shampoo and shower gel bottles
  • Detergent and soap bottles - remove the pumps as they can't be recycled!
  • Bottles of bleach, or of any other cleaning product (Mr Muscle etc.) including the nozzle
  • Plant food and pesticide bottles - but check the labels just to make sure
  • Skin care product bottles

Remember to...

  • Empty and rinse your bottles and replace any lids

  • Leave labels on - they'll be removed as part of the recycling process

  • Squash bottles to save space

What can't be recycled?

  • Bottles which used to contain corrosive chemicals (like antifreeze)

Your questions answered

Q: Why do bottles need emptying/ rinsing, and why replace the lids?

A: Leftover food/liquid can get onto other recyclable material (like paper) and ruin it. If you forget to empty your bottle, it might not be recycled, as when it goes through the automated sorting process, the extra weight can stop it being pushed into the right recycling stream.

Q:What's wrong with bottles which used to contain corrosive chemicals?

A: Some chemicals are really poisonous and so staff working in the plants are put at risk. They can also damage the recycling equipment.

What to do with other plastics

What other plastics can you recycle?

  • Pots - think yoghurt, dessert, soup

  • Tubs - think butter, ice cream, spread
  • Trays - think fruit, veg, raw meat, ready meals
  • Trays for biscuits and chocolate
  • Brown plant pots

Remember to...

  • remove any film lids or absorbent pads in trays as these can't be recycled!

  • give your pots, tubs and trays a quick rinse so that food residue doesn't ruin other recycling
  • take paint pots to your local recycling centre, as they can't be recycled from the home

The following items can't be recycled (although you might think they can be!)

  • Sweet packets or wrappers

  • Film lids on tubs and trays
  • Bread bags
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Laminated pouches - such as for cat food and coffee
  • Plastic toys
  • Blister packs for medicines (like paracetamol)
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Expanded Polystyrene (used in packaging to protect your products)
What to do with metal

What types of metal can be recycled?

  • Drinks cans

  • Food tins - pop lids inside the tins
  • Chocolate and biscuit tins
  • Aerosols - put the plastic caps into the recycling separately
  • Aluminium foil - but only if it has no food residue!
  • Aluminium trays and tubes - place any plastic caps into the recycling separately

What types of metal can't be recycled?

  • Crisp packets

  • Sweetie wrappers
  • Laminated foil (e.g. cat food and coffee pouches that spring back when you try to scrunch them)

Recycle the following at your local recycling centre (not at home)

  • General kitchenware, such as cutlery, pots and pans

  • Metal containers which used to contain chemicals, such as paint, white spirits and engine oils
  • Any other metal items from around the home, such as kettles, irons, pipes and white goods

Remember to...

  • Empty and rinse before recycling! Food and liquid can spoil whole loads of recycling and then it just ends up in landfill or incinerated

  • Leave labels on - machines take these off as items travel through the recycling plant

 

What to do with glass

What types of glass are good to recycle?

  • Bottles of any colour - think wine, posh lemonade, fresh OJ

  • Jars, such as for sauces, baby food and jam
  • Non-food bottles and jars, such as for perfume, aftershave and beauty creams

What types of glass can't be recycled?

  • Glass cookware, such as Pyrex

  • Drinking glasses
  • Vases
  • Microwave plates
  • Nail varnish bottles. This is because the varnish is really difficult to remove and the bottles are so small they filter out during the recycling process

Remember to...

  • Empty and rinse your items before putting them in the recycling

  • Put metal lids and caps back onto your containers, as these will be sorted during the recycling process

You can recycle the following at your local recycling centre (not at home please!)

  • Light bulbs and neon tubes

  • Window glass (check with your local recycling centre first as they might not take this)

 

What to do with food waste

Food waste isn't really waste as it can be converted into the electricity that powers your home (smart huh?) It's really easy to get into the habit of scraping your scraps and dropping your tea bags into your kitchen caddy.

What can you put into your kitchen caddy?

  • Plate scrapings

  • Tea bags and coffee grounds

  • Any out of date food

  • Inedible meat and fish (cooked or raw) - that includes bones!

  • Gone off dairy products (not including milk though)

  • Egg shells
  • Bread, cakes and pastries that have passed their best
  • Fruit and vegetable peelings and cores
  • Cooking oil

What not to put in your kitchen caddy

  • Any sort of packaging

  • Anything that isn't food - so no nappies please!
  • Liquids such as milk - these can spill and make a mess when the food waste is being transported

Remember to...

  • Remove ALL packaging from food as this causes problems when the food waste travels through the processing plant

There are a few ways in which food waste can be treated. In some areas (where food and garden waste are mixed together) it is often turned into commercial compost. Where food waste is collected by itself, it is turned into electricity. Watch the following videos to see how food waste is turned into electricity and how commercial compost is created.

 
What can never be recycled

There are some items which should never go in the recycling, as when they do, they ruin whole loads of recycling. This can result in truckloads of recycling being sent to landfill or incineration instead.

The NO list:

  • Sanitary products - so nappies and all other sanitary products. When nappies go in the recycling, they can cause entire vehicles (tonnes) of recycling to be rejected and sent to landfill or incineration instead

  • Any medical items such as needles, syringes and blood bags
  • Pet litter
  • Animal bedding

Remember, there is an element of hand sorting at recycling plants. Items such as needles and nappies not only destroy recycling, but are a huge health and safety hazard to staff. Never put them in the recycling bin!!