Five things you might think are recyclable…but aren’t

Does anyone else find recycling just a little bit confusing? I can’t be the only one. I am fully supportive of the idea that as households, we should sort our rubbish rather than leaving it to someone else, but I think we all need a bit more detail about what can and can’t go into each of our bins. Part of the problem is that there are so many different types of packaging materials we use these days that for the Council to give us clear information would require a small book. Of course, the ideal solution is that we have entirely reusable packaging and don’t have to throw anything away but, let’s be realistic.

I have focused on the five materials which I think are little known or a bit confusing in their recyclability. There are many more which are not recyclable and, if you are interested, the council website it pretty good at highlighting what you can and can’t put in each recycling box.

1 – Plastic film. Any type of plastic film you encounter you can guarantee it will not be recyclable by your local council and you need to put it in your general waste bin. This includes cling film, magazine wrappers, cellophane on greetings cards and so many types of food packaging from bags of frozen peas to bags of carrots.

There are a couple of types of this plastic film which have varying levels of recyclability so if you can get them to a dedicated recycling plant then they will be recycled. The below are all recyclable by Polyprint [address available here] so, if you can collect them all together and post them off, they will be recycled (again, best to avoid them in the first place where you can):

  • Bags used for electrical appliances or furniture
  • Bread bags
  • Bin bags (clean and unused)
  • Bubble wrap
  • Can and drink multipack outers and plastic joining rings
  • Cling film (clean)
  • Thin bags used in supermarkets for fruit and veg (clean)
  • Toilet roll or nappy pack outers

2 – Crisp and sweet wrappers. These are not recyclable anywhere as far as we know and are 100% the worst designed product ever. Not only are they designed to be used only once for low value, very popular items, but they are also made of a material which is difficult to dispose of responsibly. Crisp and sweet packets are also a major component of litter. Their marketing is targeted at children and young people and no thought has been put into their disposal. The only solutions we can think of for these items is to avoid! Try making your own snacks at home to take in a container. It may well end up better for your health too.

3 – Takeaway coffee cups. There has been a lot in the news about these recently so awareness is increasing about their recyclability, or lack of, but honestly and truly we still see a lot of them out and about so more needs to be done. The reason these products are not recyclable is their lining is composed of a mixture of paper and plastic to make them waterproof and stop us all from getting soggy, burnt hands. Some of the big brands are now collecting cups and sending them off to dedicated recycling plants but most takeaway cups are disposed of away from where it was purchased (hence them being ‘taken away’). The very design of the cups is for them to be disposable. I suspect many people aren’t going to want a used takeaway cup sat in their car or bag until they pass another Starbucks or Costa to dispose of it. What we really need, is for everyone to have a reusable coffee cup and for all coffee shops to stop offering a takeaway cup. If we had to buy a whole new reusable cup every time we wanted a takeaway coffee, we would all soon start remembering to take one with us.

4 – Polystyrene. We don’t see much of this about anymore apart from takeaway containers but it is still about in packaging material for all sorts of things. Polystyrene is not commonly recycled anywhere and there is so much of it floating around in our oceans now that we really need to stop producing it. Several millions tonnes of polystyrene is produced every year in the UK. We all need to take a stand and start telling companies that we don’t want it! There are plenty of alternative materials out there, particularly for packing boxes, many of which cost nothing and can use up other waste products, e.g. shredded paper or cardboard.

5 – Metallic or glittery wrapping paper and greetings cards. We aren’t quite into the festive season yet but this is something to be aware of. For many years all our wrapping paper and Christmas cards would get piled into the recycling bin without a second thought. If I knew it was effectively contaminating the recycling bin I would be (and still am) horrified. To think of all the cards and gifts I have given with this non-recyclable material on also gives me a rush of guilt. If you have any events coming up for which the giving of cards and gifts is occurring, try using brown paper for wrapping (you can decorate it yourself 😊) and glitter free gift cards.

One last one, currently, biodegradable and compostable packaging are not suitable for any kerbside collection schemes so these all need to go in the general waste bin.  For more information about the challenges around using biodegradable packaging, check out our previous blog post.

This article focuses on recycling in Powys (as that is where our shop is based). Ridiculously enough, that means it might not be relevant to anyone not within the Powys waste collection service as there is NO consistency between councils. However, I have focussed here on products which pretty much aren’t recyclable anywhere so hopefully it will still prove useful.

We hope you have found this article useful. If you would like more information do have a look at your local council’s website for more details about what can and cannot be put in your kerbside collection bins.  Let us know how you get on.

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