8 Common Recycling Questions, Answered

Don't let recycling confusion waste your time. This is what you need to know

Recycling is complex. There, we said it. Yes, it should be the simplest thing in the world – popping your cardboard, paper and plastic bottle into that box – and Bob’s your uncle. But actually, there’s a lot more to consider when it comes to recycling your waste. Is it clean enough? Is it actually recyclable? And which item goes in which bin?!

To add an extra layer of confusion to your rubbish pile, the recycling process varies from local authority to local authority – so you’ll probably have to learn the process all over again if and when you move house. It’s confusing but worth getting to grips with, as you could save so much stuff from going to landfill. We’ve broken the basics down, to help get you started.

1. How can you find out what your council recycles?

The first thing you should be doing when you move to a new area is checking out the recycling situation because, believe us when we say this, it can vary massively from place to place. Visit your local council’s website and head to the recycling and waste section, and you should be able to find a list of what can and can’t be recycled in your area. Or email your local council which should be able to provide you with a list or further details. Most councils recycle paper, card, clean foil, glass and some types of plastic.

2. So what type of plastic can be recycled?

This varies from council to council, too, but the most commonly recycled item is probably the humble plastic bottle – you know, the one you get your milk, water or fruit juice in. Wash the bottle out, squish it down and stick the lid back on before you drop it in the recycling. And this goes for many bathroom and cleaning products, too (though check the label if in doubt).

Some councils also recycle clear plastic tubs, pots and trays, but it really depends on where you live. According to Recycle Now, 79% of councils collect rigid plastic packaging such as these items in household recycling collections.

3. What type of plastic can’t be recycled, then?

You know the black plastic trays that supermarket ready meals tend to come in? They can’t be recycled. Nor can you recycle crisp packets, bubble wrap, polystyrene foam, cling film, food and drink pouches, bakery wrappers or salad bags. Toys are also a no-no though there are separate recycling schemes for those.

4. What about plastic bags?

Most councils don’t recycle plastic bags either (some do, but only a very few!) That said, you can take your bags into supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Co-op and Waitrose, which have recycling collection points in their larger stores. Online food delivery service Ocado also offers to take your old bags away and will pay you 5p per bag – even if the bags aren’t originally from Ocado, which is a pretty good deal.

5. Why do you have to clean your recycling?

When you recycle plastic bottles or glass jars, you should be ensuring they’ve been washed and properly dried out, as any residue left on them can make it very difficult to recycle the item in question. And you don’t want the rest of your recycling to end up soggy as a result of you not letting a bottle dry out properly.

“Contamination is created when the wrong materials are put into the system (e.g. nappies in the recycling bin) or when the right materials are prepared in the wrong way (e.g. food left in containers),” a spokesperson for North London Waste Authority explains. “If contamination levels are too high when a recycling load arrives at the facility, it might have to be rejected. If this is the case, the whole load is sent to be burnt for energy or to landfill.”

Don’t be that person. For those worried about wasting water in the process, NLWA recommends rinsing your recycling after you’ve done your washing up (using the same water) or adding them in with your existing dishwasher load.

6. What should absolutely not be making its way into the recycling bin?

Under no circumstances should nappies, sanitary products and dog poo bags (filled or otherwise) end up in your recycling bin – sadly it does happen but please think of the poor person who has to sort it out by hand. Grim. You also shouldn’t be putting dirty containers in your recycling including greasy pizza boxes – and textiles are a no-no, too.

7. What about recycling clothes and old bedding?

How you recycle your old clothes very much depends on how intact they are – if they’re in perfectly good condition, consider sending them to your local charity shop which can sell them on and make money for charity. Winning. For clothes and old bedding which are stained or damaged, take them to your local clothes bank (usually found in supermarket or local car parks) or at your Household Waste Recycling Centre. If you don’t own a car, some charities like Traid will even come and take your old clothes away. Plenty of high street retailers such as H&M, & Other Stories and Marks & Spencer also host ‘shwop’ boxes to put your donations in.

8. Can you recycle gadgets?

Yes, you can. But most local authorities won’t collect from your home. Instead you’re best of dropping them off at selected retailers (Apple, Currys, Panasonic, BT all run ) or at the big Household Waste Recycling Centres.

Recycle Now says it’s easy to know if an electrical item, toy or game is recyclable if it has reached the end of its working life. Basically, if you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, it’s recyclable:

  • Does it have a plug?
  • Does it use batteries?
  • Does it need charging?
  • Does it have a picture of a crossed out wheelie bin on it?

If your item still works perfectly fine but you don’t want it anymore, it’s worth noting that some charities do take electrical goods – but check with them first before turning up with a haul of goodies.

And lastly, if it’s old tech that still works, consider selling it on eBay – as the old saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.