The UK has an average recycling rate of 44%, but is required to meet the EU target of 50% by 2020. One of the main factors currently preventing the UK from achieving a higher recycling rate is confusion.
According to a recent study by Wrap UK, over 90% of people recycle key materials such as: paper, card, glass, tins, and plastic bottles, but are a little more unsure of other items in the home, resulting in recyclable items ending up in the waste collection.
Wrap states: “Three quarters of households are not completely confident about all materials they can recycle, with plastic packaging, cartons, and aerosols and foil creating most confusion.”
To help combat the confusion, we’ve created a list of things you can recycle at home that you probably didn’t think you could.
10 recyclable items from around the house
Wrapping paper: Wrapping paper can cause confusion, with some people recycling all varieties of gift wrap, and others recycling none at all. In reality, whether or not your wrapping paper can be recycled comes down to what it’s made of. The more traditional types of wrapping paper are absolutely fine to go into your recycling bag or container as long as you remove the sticky tape first. However, any gift wrap that’s made of foil, is shiny or contains glitter, isn’t recyclable and needs to go into general waste instead.
Mattresses: This is definitely not an item for your recycling container (good luck trying to wrestle it in!), but mattresses can and should be recycled at your local household waste and recycling centre. Once taken apart, mattresses contain many valuable, recyclable components such as steel springs, fabric, and even stuffing.
Wine corks: After you’ve drained the last dreg from your bottle of wine, don’t forget to recycle the cork as well as the bottle. As long as the cork hasn’t been painted, and doesn’t contain any plastic, then it can either be recycled or put into your garden composter.
Tights: Tights are great for re-use around the home. Use them to store onions, to make lavender bags or as growbags. If you have no use for your old tights and really want a clear out then check your local recycling information and pop your old stockings along to the textile bank where they can be turned into a variety of new items, including toys and benches.
Deodorant and hairspray tins: Around three quarters of all UK authorities accept aerosols in kerbside recycling, so there’s really no need to chuck these tins in the trash. Make sure deodorant tins, cans of hairspray, as well as other household aerosols, are empty, then remove the lids (and any other loose parts) and pop them in with your aluminium recycling.
Small electrical items: You may not think it, but small electrical items are collected kerbside by many local authorities. Check local recycling information to see if this is the case in your area. If not, small electrical items can be taken to your household waste and recycling centre.
Clothes: If you’ve missed the charity bag collection and need to refresh your wardrobe then pop along to your local recycling centre and put your unwanted clothes into the textile bank. According to Wrap” an estimated £140 million worth (350,000 tonnes) of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year.” Don’t contribute to this figure.
Pet food: What do you do with the scraps of cat or dog food that your furry friend turns its nose up at? Well, these can go into your food waste caddy along with any human food scraps.
Clean foil: There’s a lot of confusion around whether foil and similar items can be recycled. As long as tin foil, foil milk bottle tops, and foil food trays are clean, they can be collected in kerbside recycling.
Makeup and cosmetic packaging: It’s not just the cardboard boxes from makeup and cosmetics that can be recycled; manufacturers of beauty products are becoming increasingly more environmentally aware, so it’s worth checking tubes and bottles before throwing cosmetics in the bin. If they’re made of suitable material, give them a rinse and pop them in the recycling.
Now turning away from what you can recycle in the home, let’s look at some of the usual suspects that end up in the recycling container when they really shouldn’t.
6 things you definitely can’t recycle
Crisp packets: It’s a common misconception that crisp packets can be recycled because they somewhat resemble foil, but they’re in fact made of a metallised plastic film, which is not currently recyclable.
Do the scrunch test to check whether packaging is recyclable. If you squeeze it into a ball and it stays that way (like tin foil does), then it’s recyclable aluminium. If it unfolds itself (like a crisp packet does), then it’s not.
Pet food pouches: Pet food pouches also often catch people out. Again, these are quite foil-like, so are often put in with the aluminium recycling, but pet food pouches fall into the laminated plastic category – along with baby food pouches, coffee pouches, and drinks pouches – and can’t be recycled.
Broken glass: Glass jars and bottles are commonly collected in kerbside recycling, which can lead people to believe they’re doing the right thing by putting unwanted drinking glasses, glass cookware, and even broken glass into the recycling container. However, not all types of glass melt at the same temperature as the commonly recycled jars and bottles, so including other types of glass in with these can cause rejection of the whole container. If you’re not sure whether your glass can be recycled, it’s best to check with your local authority.
Tissue and kitchen roll: Although the inner tube of a kitchen roll is widely recycled, the used paper towel is not – this will need to go into your general waste along with any tissues. Why? Well firstly, used tissues and paper towels aren’t recyclable as the dirt and debris can’t be removed during the recycling process. And secondly, many tissues have already been made from recycled materials, and have been processed as many times as possible, making the fibres too short for any further recycling. If your tissue paper or kitchen roll sheet is clean, and you don’t want to chuck it in the bin, you may be able to compost it at home due to the short fibres.
Takeaway pizza boxes: Many people believe they’re doing their bit for the environment by tossing the takeaway pizza box in the recycling after the contents have been demolished, but sadly this is not the case. Grease and food remnants on the cardboard make it unsuitable for recycling, and including it with the rest of your card and paper will class the whole lot as contaminated – it will then be sent to landfill.
Nail varnish bottles: Although the glass bottles can be recycled, the nail polish inside contains hazardous materials and therefore isn’t suitable for recycling. You shouldn’t put nail varnish in your general waste either as it can contaminate the environment – take it to your local household waste and recycling centre and dispose of it in the hazardous waste container.
Need more help with recycling at home?
Were you surprised by any of the items we listed above? Are you guilty of throwing away items that can be collected for kerbside recycling or putting items in your recycling container which cause contamination? Well, if you’re still confused about what can be recycled in your area, then download the @HOME app for free from iTunes or the Play Store.