Thu. Jun 1st, 2023

I spend a whole lot of time – an excessive amount of time – occupied with recycling and the primary factor I feel, again and again, is: it shouldn’t be this tough. Eighty per cent of UK households are “nonetheless unclear” about tips on how to recycle successfully, in line with analysis final 12 months – and who can blame us?

Labelling typically requires a doctorate in semiotics to decode, kerbside collections are a postcode lottery and council recycling centres are sometimes troublesome to entry with no automobile. At residence, packaging piles up – nobody is aware of what to do with toothbrushes or the cat’s deal with packages, and we’re squabbling over pizza packing containers. All of it quantities to us collectively questioning whether or not recycling is in the end pointless as a result of it’s all going to finish up in landfill within the growing world.

“We’ve made one thing that could possibly be pretty easy actually difficult,” says Libby Peake, of the atmosphere thinktank Inexperienced Alliance. “And that’s fairly irritating for the general public who wish to do the appropriate factor on the subject of recycling.”

Issues are altering, although, if a lot too slowly. “We’ve got come a great distance,” Steve Eminton of business information web site Let’s Recycle jogs my memory. “Ten years in the past, locations wouldn’t recycle milk bottles or yoghurt pots.” The findings of a authorities session on “constant collections” are due imminently and the hope is that finally this may imply not simply plastic, glass, paper and card but additionally cartons (Tetra Paks and related) can be collected from all houses.

The message of ‘scale back, reuse, recycle’ has been misplaced – we centered on the factor that’s the least vital

There’s additionally the proposed Deposit Return Scheme, beneath which shoppers would pay a returnable deposit for plastic bottles and cans (and glass in Wales), however not till 2024 on the earliest. Ultimately, technological advances will make a distinction too: AI-enabled sorting, apps that assist you to scan packaging earlier than you bin it, and a watermarking system for supplies are all within the works, in line with Archipelago, a fund investing in options for hard-to-recycle stuff.

However within the meantime, what can we do? For a begin, perhaps fixate much less on recycling. That’s an odd factor to say in an article about recycling, nevertheless it’s presupposed to be a final resort: limiting waste has extra affect and reuse is a greater technique the place doable. As Peake says: “The messages of the three Rs (scale back, reuse, recycle), I feel, have been misplaced in a whole lot of methods, and we centered on the factor that’s the least vital however most likely the best to understand.”

Subsequent, don’t “wishcycle”: placing stuff within the recycling since you want, or hope, it could possibly be recycled causes extra issues than in case you chucked it within the bin. It’s additionally vital to keep up stress on producers, retailers and authorities: issues gained’t enhance until we present we wish them to.

Topic to those caveats, here’s a information to what to do with a number of the home goods we wrestle with, or don’t know tips on how to recycle. When you’re nonetheless uncertain, the Recycle Now web site is a godsend. Managed by waste charity Wrap, it supplies a information to what can and may’t be recycled in your postcode.

Ought to’ve gone to Specsavers … contact lens packaging. {Photograph}: Douglas Sacha/Getty Photographs

The miserable mountain of foil-topped plastic blister packs from my sons’ day by day contacts launched me on this quest. There are answers: Specsavers collects contact lenses and lens packaging in each retailer and recycles them within the UK with an organization that turns them into development supplies. Boots Opticians may even take again lenses and packaging however theirs is recycled by way of TerraCycle. It’s truthful to say the recycling world is agnostic at greatest on the subject of TerraCycle: BBC Panorama has reported on points with the corporate’s supposed UK recycling ending up in Bulgaria or left to pile up with subcontractors, or probably ending up in landfill within the US. I’ve advised alternate options the place they exist.


Lions Worldwide has just lately expanded its scheme accumulating spectacles at its Birmingham HQ, then partnering with charities to get them to eye centres and clinics within the growing world (at the moment the Gambia, Nigeria, Chad, Bangladesh and Mali). Yow will discover out tips on how to donate by emailing or calling free on 0345 8339502. Alternatively, Specsavers, Boots Opticians and Peep Eyewear take glasses for recycling.


One for the builders … lipstick tubes. {Photograph}: Tatiana Gromova/Alamy

Mascara, lipstick, make-up palettes, journey miniatures … Boots takes all of those in retailer, from any model or supply. They go to a UK-based recycler to be remodeled into development board. Boots ensures nothing goes to landfill and nothing is incinerated.


The tops from cleaning soap, bathe gel or different dispensers can’t go in your regular plastic recycling. Ideally, refill and reuse pump bottles so far as doable, however the Boots beauty recycling scheme additionally takes them.

Dental stuff

On the subject of toothbrushes, electrical toothbrush heads, floss containers and people interdental brushes dentists love, there isn’t a lot excellent news at the moment. TerraCycle will settle for them if you will discover a dropoff level, with the reservations defined above. Toothpaste tubes can go in Boots beauty recycling packing containers. For the remainder, “reuse them as a lot as you’ll be able to for cleansing or one thing”, advises Eminton. Typical dental floss can’t be recycled, however there are actually silk or plant-based flosses (I take advantage of a corn starch one) and glass dispensers that may be refilled indefinitely.

Insulin pens

Boots and Superdrug take these by way of the PenCycle scheme.

Capsule blister packs

That is difficult. “As a result of it’s pharmaceutical, it’s very stringent on what plastics you should utilize, so a whole lot of them are PVC and, from a recyclability perspective, that’s very troublesome,” says Adam Herriott of Wrap. Superdrug runs a blister pack recycling scheme in shops the place it has an in-store pharmacy – the shop locator means that you can filter to seek out one. Returned packs are become boards for the development business.

Some individuals report problem in having their blister packs accepted in shops: Superdrug says the scheme remains to be stay, nevertheless it doesn’t have the capability to deal with large-scale group collections, solely particular person drop-offs, which will be the difficulty. There could also be another native scheme in your space: a gaggle of GP practices is operating a pilot in mine.

Black plastic containers

Downside solved … black meals packaging. {Photograph}: Kornienko Alexandr/Alamy

Lastly, some unequivocally excellent news. Previously, black plastic takeaway and prepared meal containers couldn’t be recycled. “It’s not a problem in any respect these days,” says Herriott. Even one thing that seems black is unlikely to make use of the problematic carbon that was the barrier to recycling up to now, and recycling gear is completely capable of take care of all extensively used pigments today. Recycle away.

Luggage and wrappers

One of many huge improvements of current years has been the front-of-store assortment packing containers for versatile plastic in supermarkets. They take salad luggage, provider luggage, crisp and biscuit packets, prepared meal movie lids and extra: if it springs again once you crumple it, it may go in there.

At Co-op, recycling takes place within the UK, the place materials is sorted by polymer kind and made into bin luggage, inflexible storage objects and our previous favorite, development boards. One key level to make about these items: please do rinse, as meals soiling is prone to make it unimaginable to recycle.

Pizza packing containers

Eminton places this one to mattress for me: “They are often recycled until they’re actually soiled – it’s simply widespread sense.” Grease stains are nice.

Meals and pet meals pouches

All of those can go into the versatile plastic assortment factors in supermarkets, although it’s value highlighting that they’re among the many most troublesome plastics to recycle, due to their a number of layers. In order that they turn into – you guessed it – development boards. Pets at Dwelling may even recycle pet meals pouches of any model in its 320 shops – it asks that you just rinse them out first.


It’s value checking on the RecycleNow web site or instantly in case your council collects foil kerbside – I found mine does. In any other case, your native recycling centre will most likely take it. Scrunch earlier than you recycle, ideally creating one thing tennis-ball-sized or bigger.

Espresso pods

Some manufacturers of espresso pod might be despatched again to the producer. {Photograph}: Michael Gabriele/Getty Photographs/EyeEm

There are such a lot of extra ecological methods to drink espresso, but when for some cause you’re tied to pods like Nespresso, recycling choices have improved just lately. Podback gives a kerbside service in 9 native authority areas (verify on the web site). Different prospects can choose up free recycling luggage from Morrisons, Ocado or one of many collaborating pod manufacturers and ship it again utilizing Yodel’s Gather+ service.

Jar lids

Hold metallic jar lids in a tin and both put into your tin can recycling kerbside, or within the metallic recycling at your native waste facility.

‘Compostable’ or ‘biodegradable’ plastic wrappers

The tide is popping on these plant-based plastics, which had been initially heralded as a revolution. You might have noticed the outcomes of College School London’s Huge Compost Experiment revealed late final 12 months highlighting how poorly compostable they really are. Wrap’s recommendation? Don’t attempt to residence compost these, and verify what your native authority says. If there isn’t a meals waste assortment, says Herriott, it’s unlikely your council will accumulate compostable plastics and they need to simply go within the bin.

Tetra Paks and different cartons

Though cartons are recyclable, the a number of layers imply it’s a reasonably complicated course of they usually can’t be recycled into extra cartons (referred to as “closed loop” recycling). So if a plastic bottle is accessible for a similar product, similar to milk, select that as a substitute. The place you’ll be able to take them is as much as your native council. Verify the Recycle Now web site to see whether or not they’re picked up kerbside, or if it’s a must to drop them off someplace.


Even Teflon might be recycled. {Photograph}: harmpeti/Getty Photographs/iStockphoto

Even with a non-stick coating, metallic or principally metallic pans needs to be nice to go in your nearest council metallic recycling level. “Teflon coating shouldn’t make any distinction,” says Eminton.

Padded envelopes

A paper padded envelope might be recycled along with your card and paper, in line with Eminton. Plastic might want to go within the bin.

Polystyrene packaging materials

When you’re fortunate sufficient to stay inside the north London waste authority, you’ll be able to take your polystyrene packaging to your native tip. For the remainder of us, there isn’t a great answer, until whoever delivered it would take it away once more. “Higher to place it in your black sack than put it in your recycling bin, as a result of that causes an issue,” says Eminton. There’s loads much less of it round these days, fortunately, and it’s additionally extensively recycled by industrial customers.


Though there are many well-known methods to offer your previous garments away – charity retailers, collections for asylum seekers or the H&M scheme that takes again undesirable garments – there’s no nice information right here: textiles are nonetheless poorly recyclable. “A jacket has a fleece lining, an interior materials, an outer materials, buttons, zips and threads – we are able to’t separate all of that,” says Lucy Mortimer of Archipelago.

“Even in case you can deconstruct the person elements, you then have an issue with the person supplies,” provides her colleague Justin Butler – and expertise to separate fibres remains to be in its infancy.

So what are you able to do? You already know: purchase much less and purchase secondhand. But in addition, be sceptical round claims about recycled materials in new garments: plastic bottles are higher become extra plastic bottles than garments that then can’t be recycled.

Verify for plastic in your tea luggage. {Photograph}: Ian Logan/Getty Photographs


Unfastened-leaf tea is the most suitable choice for the planet (all that packaging considerably ups the carbon footprint), but when it needs to be luggage, select one with a plant-based seal. Not like oil-based plastic seals, these are created from renewable assets and might be composted industrially.

Many luggage are actually sealed with plant-based plastic, together with PG Suggestions, Yorkshire Tea, Clipper, Co-op, Asda and Sainsbury’s personal manufacturers – Tesco is shifting throughout by summer time of this 12 months.

In case your native authority collects meals or backyard waste, put them in there; if not, you’ll be able to put them in residence compost, although chances are you’ll find yourself having to retrieve small quantities of plant-based plastic residue. The super-virtuous empty the leaves into compost and bin the bag (additionally one of the best method in case you’re undecided what your teabag is product of).

Cables and chargers

The overall variety of cables hoarded in UK houses that could possibly be recycled (140m) may circle the Earth greater than 5 occasions, in line with Materials Focus. Its web site, Recycle Your Electricals, tells you what to do with cables and every part else. “Something with a plug, cable or battery might be recycled,” says Scott Butler, the organisation’s govt director. His recommendation? Bag them up and once you’ve acquired sufficient use its on-line postcode locator, which already has 5,000 recycling factors and is including extra continually.

CDs and DVDs

You’ll be able to’t recycle DVDs at residence, however locations similar to Zapper will take them, and may even provide you with a bit of cash for the great ones.


Each week, 1.3m single-use vapes are thrown away, in line with current analysis and they’re the UK’s fastest-growing waste stream. They don’t have to be: observe the Recycle Your Electricals recommendation and discover a recycling level. Take the battery out if there’s one and recycle it individually; don’t put the entire vape in with the battery recycling. Additionally contemplate switching to refillable vapes – many e-liquid bottles are created from recyclable plastic (however verify if uncertain).

And what can’t you recycle?

Outdated toys might be handed on. {Photograph}: CGinspiration/Getty Photographs

Massive plastic toys

There’s no recycling route for backyard slides and different massive plastic children’ objects, however given they’re additionally virtually indestructible, share the love by giving them away.

VHS cassettes

In need of creating some sort of retro hipster sculpture with them, your videotapes have to be binned.

Pyrex dishes and consuming glasses

Don’t put these in your glass assortment: the completely different melting factors trigger havoc with glass recycling.

Disposable nappies

There’s no large-scale or extensively accessible answer for the smelly stuff however nappy recycling pioneers Nappicycle in Wales have resurfaced the A487 between Cardigan and Aberystwyth with them. Partnering with Nappicylcle, babycare firm Pura has additionally simply accomplished a six-month trial in Bristol, so watch – don’t sniff – this house.