5 things you think you can recycle, but actually can’t

Despite our best intentions, confusions around what we can and can’t recycle could be doing more harm than good, new research show.

Press Association
Last updated: 20 March 2018 - 2.29pm

Every day we’re told we should be acting greener to help save the planet. ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ is the message to remember as we steer away from plastic bottles and instead reach for our reusable flask, feeling proud in the knowledge we are doing our bit.

But even with the best will in the world, we don’t always get it right. According to a recent study by the British Science Association (BSA), of the 2,000 Brits they interviewed about recycling household waste, not one person got full marks. This means we’re all likely to be guilty of putting things into our recycling bin that cause more harm than good, or throwing away something that could be recycled.

[Read more: 8 of the best reusable travel coffee mugs to help the environment]

Head of engagement at the BSA Ivvet Modinou said: “It’s encouraging to see lots of people are concerned about plastic waste, but what you can and can’t put in the recycle bin can often be confusing. The industry as a whole needs to address this issue if we are to collectively improve recycling performance.”

Research shows that in 2017  just over half (53%) of UK households disposed of one or more items in the general rubbish that could have been recycled in their area, up from 49% in 2016. And 76% put things in recycling bins that are not collected locally.

Here are some of the more common misconceptions about what you think you can recycle but actually can’t.

1. Food-stained plastic and paper containers

If you’re going to recycle it, wash it out. Although dirty jars and tins are usually fine, as they go through a heating process when recycled, many of us think we can put in our pizza boxes and takeaway cartons, but if they’re stained with grease and food, they can’t be recycled, so should go in the bin.

2. Wrapping paper

Despite the fact it’s made from paper, some gift wrap has a coating on it that means it won’t break down in the recycling plant. So if you want to give gifts with conscience, avoid wrapping papers with gloss, foil or glitter, and opt instead for a matte finish.

3. Tape

Following on from gift wrap is the hidden nuisance that is sticky tape. One tiny piece can contaminate the whole piece of paper and prevent it from being thoroughly mulched. Make sure you’ve picked off all pieces of tape before tossing your wrapping paper into the recycling.

4. Kitchen roll and tissue paper

As it’s often already made from recycled paper, tissue paper can’t be recycled again, because the fibres are too short to pulp properly. Similarly, kitchen roll can’t be recycled, especially if it’s been contaminated with food. However, it is compostable, so you can put it out on your garden instead of in your bin.

[Read more: What to do with your old plastic carrier bags – 13 alternative uses]

5. Soap dispensers

The BSA’s survey indicates that 44% of us think we can put soap dispensers in with our recycling. The soap pump dispenser top has to be removed and the bottle thoroughly washed out before  it can be recycled. Similarly, shampoo bottles need to be washed out before going in the recycling as well.

Know your options

What local authorities will and will not take differs depending on where you live. So if in doubt, do your research and find out exactly what you can do. If you’re not sure, sometimes the answer can be staring you in the face, as recycling symbols are becoming increasingly common on everyday items.

It’s estimated the average British household produces over a tonne of waste every year. That means roughly 31 million tonnes of waste are leaving British homes each year, the equivalent of 3.5 million double-decker buses. If you lined them up, they would go around the world two and a half times.

By taking an extra couple of minutes to recycle everything you possibly can (and know what you can’t), you could help keep our planet green and our oceans blue.

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