Recycle Week: 80% of UK households “still unclear” on how to recycle effectively

Packaging recycling

As many as eight in 10 households are still failing to recycle simple items like cardboard, plastic and food, according to research.

A study of 2,000 adults, conducted by Robinsons, suggests that up to 25% of Brits don’t feel educated enough about what they can and can’t throw away – and the impact this could have on the environment.

More than four in 10 (42%) feel there are so many “misconceptions and myths” around recycling, they probably don’t do it properly and still find it confusing.

Only 42% break down their cardboard boxes for pick-up, and 59% don’t think to put paper anywhere other than their general waste bin.

Food (81%), aluminium foil (73%), newspapers (65%) and wine bottles (67%) also make their way into the general household bin waste.

There are many myths that can add to the confusion when deciding what to put in your boxes for your collection, or what you can or cannot take to a recycling centre

In light of this, Robinsons has partnered with resource management company Biffa this Recycle Week, to provide insight as to why recycling effectively is so important, as well as handy tips and tricks to help Brits chuck-it-out with confidence.

Charlotte White, marketing director at Robinsons added: “Clearly, the large majority of Brits try their best when it comes to recycling, but it’s not always simple when it comes to knowing what you can and can’t recycle.

“There are many myths that can add to the confusion when deciding what to put in your boxes for your collection, or what you can or cannot take to a recycling centre.

“However, we hope we can help with the insight from the experts, to give some clarity on the everyday items that you can recycle with confidence to help do your bit.”

“Still very unclear”

The findings come as a quarter admit their recycling boxes are only ever half full when it comes to bin day.

And while 66% try to recycle as much as they can, 55% are “still very unclear” about what can be collected, and what can’t.

Robinsons, who commissioned the study, has worked with Biffa’s waste strategy and packaging expert, Roger Wright, ahead of Recycle Week to create 10 handy hacks on how to recycle effectively.

Roger said: “In the UK our recycling habits have plateaued with roughly only 50 per cent of the things that could be recycled, actually getting recycled.

“There are lots of reasons for this but we feel it needs more intervention from brands and retailers to incentivise or gamify good habits in this respect, in order to move the dial. Recycle Week is a great time to shine a light on this situation, to educate and enable people to do more.

“It’s also really important that we educate consumers around how to recycle more effectively. The biggest problem for a recycling facility is contamination – when things like food, green waste, wood, aggregates, polystyrene, nappies and general waste are put out for recycling.

When too much contaminated material is collected, it potentially prevents the whole load from being recycled. Some of these items can also clog or damage machinery.

“When too much contaminated material is collected, it potentially prevents the whole load from being recycled. Some of these items can also clog or damage machinery.

“Recycling needs to be superseded in some areas by more attractive reuse and refill business models or supported by deposit return type schemes on anything that can only ever be recycled.”

The study found other items likely to be popped into the black bin include bulbs, compost, grass clippings and pizza boxes.

While others won’t think to recycle magazines, envelopes or aluminium foil – all which can be easily recycled.

Three in 10 adults often find items they have put in their recycling boxes are still there after the collection has taken place – as they weren’t deemed suitable.

Busy schedules are cited as a reason for 24 per cent not to organise items into their bins each week.

While 21 per cent said their children are more likely to educate them on their impact on the planet.

And less than one in 5 of those surveyed admit they can’t be bothered to recycle – and opt to put everything in the black wheelie bin.

Top 10 recycling tips

What packaging is best for recycling?

Packaging made from a single material, such as hard plastic (e.g. drinks bottles), cardboard, aluminium, metal or glass, is really easy to recycle.

While certain cartons made from layered cardboard, soft plastic and aluminium are technically recyclable, it’s a difficult process to separate out the component parts.

Baby food, pet food and detergent pouches can be recycled along with plastic bags and wrappings at selected retailers. Otherwise, these need to be put in the waste bin.

What do I do with old batteries?

Please don’t put old batteries in the bin. If damaged, they could start a fire. You may be able to put them out for collection by placing them in a clear plastic bag tied to your bin, but do check with your local council first.

There are also often collection points for batteries in many shops and offices.

Should I rinse out empty cans, squeezy bottles and other containers?

Yes please, as any food left inside will contaminate the recycling process.

Pizza boxes for example should only be recycled if there’s no food left on the cardboard – a little grease is fine. The same goes for food trays and tin foil.

Can plastic squash bottle tops be recycled?

Yes, absolutely. But please leave them screwed to the bottle as they have a higher chance of being recycled.

If they go in separately, they’re likely to be screened out due to their small size.

I’m confused about what to do with old shopping bags, what’s the best thing to do with them?

Plastic shopping bags, bubble wrap and plastic film can be recycled at most major supermarkets.

I bought a new TV and now I’ve got a load of polystyrene packaging. Can I recycle it?

Unfortunately, polystyrene can’t be recycled so please place it in your general waste. If there’s a lot of it, you can dispose of it at your nearest household waste centre.

Aerosol cans are made of metal. They can be recycled, right?

Empty and completely depressurized aerosols can go into the recyclable bin, but please don’t crush or flatten them.

If the lid is plastic, you should remove it and pop into the recycling separately.

Birthdays and Christmas always produce so much wrapping paper. What bin is best?

Do the scrunch test! Crumple the paper into a ball and then open your hand. If it remains scrunched up it can likely be recycled, but if it bounces back into its original shape, it can’t be recycled.

On greetings cards, remove any parts that contain plastic, glitter, or unidentifiable embellishments and dispose of these in your general waste bin, before recycling the rest.

What about takeaway coffee cups?

Coffee cups are not normally accepted in household recycling collection schemes but can be returned for recycling at some high street coffee shops.

Better still, take advantage of the discounts offered by many shops by taking along your own re-usable cup.

Can I recycle coloured hard plastics?

If you can safely pour something down the sink or the toilet (like shampoo or detergent) the bottles themselves are then easily recycled.

While clear plastic bottles for most soft drinks, squash and milk are transformed back into bottles, coloured hard plastic packaging can still be turned into new objects like paint trays, garden furniture, guttering and drainpipes.

As there can be variances across different councils, visiting this tool is a good place to check what can be recycled in a local area.

Items brits aren’t recycling – and how you can do so effectively

  1. Fluorescent bulbs – take these back to your Household Recycling centre to be safely recycled
  2. Compost – is great for the garden or place into the kerbside green waste bin if you have one
  3. Food – can be put in food waste collections where available
  4. Grass clippings – place into the kerbside green waste bin if you have one, or take these to your local recycling centre
  5. Aluminium foil – remove any food residue first before recycling at home
  6. Pizza boxes – remove any food residue first before recycling at home
  7. Milk bottles – empty, rinse and pop the top back on before recycling
  8. Food containers – empty, rinse and remove any food residue
  9. Wine bottles – empty, rinse
  10. Magazines – remove any plastic packaging and place in paper bin
  11. Yoghurt pots – empty, rinse and remove any residue
  12. Newspapers – remove any plastic packaging and place in paper bin
  13. Plastic pots – empty, rinse and remove any food residue first
  14. Olive oil bottles – ensure they are empty first, then recycle with other glass
  15. Envelopes – place in paper bin
  16. Metal/aluminium cans – empty, rinse
  17. Paper – valuable recyclable material only when clean. If paper is brown it should be placed with card
  18. Cardboard boxes – break down and place in recycling bin. Remove any glitter or plastics on greetings cards and place these in general waste before recycling
  19. Drinks cans (beer, soft drinks etc) – empty and rinse
  20. Plastic bottles – empty, rinse and pop the plastic cap back on

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