Your guide to recycling...properly



Whilst we’re all out here trying our best to minimise our waste, unless you have reached an unholy level of minimalism (well done you), chances are we are going to have some waste leftover. With recycling rules changing between every county, even the keenest of us can be left pretty confused about what goes where.

It’s worth pointing out at this point that the recycling industry is, essentially, a money-making business. That is, while we’re all out here trying to save the planet, the recycling facilities will only recycle waste that is valuable to them; and the more energy required to process it, the less valuable it becomes.

Schemes such as The Plastics Pact UK are working super-hard with manufacturers, urging them to commit to using more recycled content in their packaging. This is their way of making sure that plastic waste keeps its high value in the market.

However, it’s still up to us to make sure that our waste enters that market. Here are a few simple steps you can do to make sure all of your hard work isn’t wasted – no matter where you call home.


Educate yourself!

Recycling rules vary massively across the country which makes writing a hard-and-fast rule book pretty difficult (although WRAP have done a pretty good job!).

The best thing you can do to maximise your recycling returns is to familiarise yourself with what your local authority wants and how they want it. Yes, read that little leaflet that appears on your doormat every so often because research has proven that almost half of us still get it wrong! Your local authority will thank you for it. Your planet will thank you for it!

When it comes to waste that you can’t leave on your kerb, think outside the box! Start an ECOBRICK with leftover plastic waste. Donate leftover gadgets to charities such as Barnados or Get Well Gamers (because don’t get me started on the issues with electronic waste!).

Wash your recycling

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to roll up your sleeves and start scrubbing your waste until it is squeaky clean. But a little swill will go a long way.

Residues make it really hard for scanners to detect materials. Dirty waste runs the risk of contaminating your waste (and others!). This doesn’t just apply to your food waste either; if you still use liquid shampoos and bodywash (no judgement here) then make sure they are washed too. Remember, companies won’t spend their resources washing waste as it simply isn’t worth their time. Concerned about water conservation (go you!), try rinsing waste in your leftover washing up water.

Take your top off

Bottle tops, foil lids, film lids – take your top off! In fact, separate all of the different parts of an item.

This is especially true for plastic bottles, where the lid is nearly always made from a different type of plastic. Facilities can hack small amounts of contamination; so, put down the scissors because the rings and labels aren’t going to cause any drastic issues. However, lots of lids can dilute the quality of recycled plastic pellets and impact their market value.

To make it more confusing, some local authorities actually want you to leave the glass lids on as they recycle this metal differently to other recyclable metals and tins. Best to check!

Don’t stack items inside each other

Squashing items is great for making more space in your recycling bin (try swilling plastic bottles with hot water to squash them further)! But stacking items inside one another actually makes it harder for scanners to detect materials. If the scanner can’t tell what it is then it’ll likely be fished out and sent to landfill. Squash, don’t stack!


Boycott black plastics

OK, so we’re all trying our best to give up all plastics but, if you can only boycott one type of plastic, let it be black plastic! In theory, black plastic can be recycled just like any of its other plastic relatives. However, scanners literally cannot detect the colour black (or other dark, opaque plastics). So even if you put black plastic in your recycling bin, the chances are slim of it being recycled.


Whilst we are lucky in the UK to have relatively mature recycling processes, sadly the system can’t be the solution to all of our problems.

Recycling facilities in the UK right now are having a real issue with the sheer demand we are placing on them. Up until recently, a lot of our waste was sent to China where the demand for the material was much higher. In 2018, however, China decided that they were making enough of their own waste thank you very much and decided to close their doors to foreign rubbish. Meaning – our waste is literally piling up as we have never built enough facilities to handle it.

The recycling industry is under a lot of strain, and some people may find further faults with how we recycle in the UK. However, our recycling system is not the problem; our consumption is. Recycling is an amazing technique for reprocessing inevitable leftover waste – but we should not be creating as much as we are right now.

This is why REDUCE and REUSE comes before RECYCLE in the 3 R’s. Or, if you follow Lucy Siegle’s advice (and why wouldn’t you) there are 8 R’s you should be following before you reach for your green wheelie bin.

No matter the demand for recycled materials – the ocean does not care if your plastic bottle is made from recycled goods. We can all work on improving the quality of our recycling (and I hope this helps) but first of all we should all be looking at what goes into our basket before it goes into our bin.

Recycling is amazing, but we can no longer look to it alone to justify the rate at which we currently consume as a nation.