Recycling Mistakes

Recycling Mistakes

In the UK, 23 million metric tonnes of waste per year is thrown away* by households. A lot of us are "wish-cyclers", throwing things in our recycling bins hoping they'll be recycled because it makes us feel better about what we're throwing away. The result of this is we contaminate the whole bin, and preventing any of it being recycled. This is how you can prevent recycling mistakes and what you can do instead of wish-cycling your waste.

Check Local Recycling

Make sure you know your local recycling system, specifically what they will and won't recycle. Follow the guidelines on how to prep your trash before recycling it to ensure it's actually recycled. Cleaning items, removing lids, and placing items into the correct bin will ensure your recyclables are actually processed. If your local council doesn’t recycle certain items, you might be able to do it another way, such as at your local waste processing facility. If that's possible, save those items and take them to be recycled separately. It helps to understand recycling codes printed on packaging to ensure you don't accidentally wish-cycle something.

Prevent Wish-cycling

Wish-cycling is putting something in our recycling bins we hope can be recycled but suspect it can't. Mixing non-recyclable items with recyclable ones can cause contamination, which causes more waste than if we just threw it away. I think we're all guilty of having 'wish-cycled' something at some point because we either wrongly assume something can be recycled or we wish it could. Here are some things that cannot be recycled in a standard UK recycling bin that might surprise you...

  • Used paper plates, towels, or napkins
  • Plastic carrier bags and black sacks
  • Damp or wet paper and cardboard
  • Sparkly wrapping paper and cards
  • Household and/or broken glass
  • Old clothing or scrap material
  • Metal, such as coat hangers
  • Paint or other non-food tins
  • Plastic bottle caps and lids
  • Plastic straws and utensils
  • Bioplastics / Plant-plastics
  • Soil paper or cardboard
  • Plastic film or wrappers
  • Light bulbs and mirrors
  • Single-use coffee cups
  • Pyrex or ceramics
  • Black food trays
  • Drinking glasses
  • Shredded paper
  • Waxed paper
  • Hard plastics
  • Bubble wrap
  • Polystyrene
  • Pizza boxes
  • Plastic toys
  • Mattresses
  • Electronics
  • Styrofoam
  • Batteries
  • Receipts
  • Stickers
  • Books
  • Corks

  • There is a whole list of items that cannot be recycled and shouldn't going in your recycling bin. This will vary from council to council so it's important to know what you can and can't put in your bins. Unfortunately knowing what these items are doesn't make it any easier when we see just how much we throw away. Some items can be avoided altogether, like glittery wrapping paper and cards, while others are less easy to prevent.

    Throw It Out

    If your council doesn't say that an item can be recycled, put it in your general landfill waste bin. It doesn't feel great to do this but if you put something that can't be recycled in your recycling bin you risk contaminating everything else in there. Use this as an opportunity to find low waste alternatives to the products you can't recycle. No more wish-cycling!

    Sometimes it's not possible to find recyclable alternatives for essentials, like medicinal products or dental care - and that's OK. If it doesn't affect your health and well being to find alternative options, there are plenty of brands making eco-friendly products in reusable, refillable, or recyclable packaging. These recommendations on where to shop for zero waste products include sustainable clothing, cruelty-free beauty, ethical homewares, and a small business guide.


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