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Most people very confused about recycling

“The biggest problem for a recycling facility is contamination."

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recycling, sustainability and ecology concept - green recycle sign with household waste on grass
Still confused about recycling? You're not alone and help is at hand. (Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Steve Richmond via 72Point

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

A study of 2,000 adults found a quarter don’t feel educated enough about what they can, and can't, throw away and the impact this could have on the environment.

While 42 percent feel there are so many misconceptions and myths around recycling, they probably don’t do it properly and still find it confusing.

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

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

This was put to the test in a video where members of the public were challenged on what you can and can't recycle, with some insightful results.

“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," said Charlotte White, from Robinsons, which commissioned the research ahead of Recycle Week.

“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 center.

Activist taking care of environment, sorting paper waste to proper recycling bin on terrace
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

“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.”

The study also found a quarter of adults admitted their recycling boxes are only ever half full when it comes to collection day.

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

Other items likely to be popped into the rubbish bin include bulbs, compost, grass clippings and pizza boxes.

While others don’t think to recycle magazines, envelopes or aluminum foil - which can all 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 not to organize items into their bins each week (24 percent).

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

Little children collecting trash outdoors. Concept of recycling
Children may be helpful when learning what to recycle. (Maples Images via Shutterstock)

Less than one in five don't recycle and opt to put everything in the landfill trash instead.

Robinsons has teamed up with Biffa's waste strategy and packaging expert, Roger Wright, to create 10 handy hacks on how to recycle effectively.

Roger said: “In the UK, our recycling habits have plateaued with roughly only 50 percent 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 incentivize 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 about how to recycle more effectively.

“The biggest problem for a recycling facility is contamination - when things like wood, food, green waste, aggregates, polystyrene, diapers 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."

“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.”

A similar survey from the USA last year revealed that more than half of Americans have a guilt trip when they don’t know what item should be recycled.  


1. What packaging is best for recycling?
Packaging made from a single material, such as hard plastic (e.g. drinks bottles), cardboard, aluminum, metal or glass, is really easy to recycle. While certain cartons made from layered cardboard, soft plastic and aluminum 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.

2. 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.

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

4. Can plastic squash bottle tops be recycled?
Yes, 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.

5. What's the best thing to do with old shopping bags?
Plastic shopping bags, bubble wrap and plastic film can be recycled at most major supermarkets.

6. Can I recycle polystyrene packaging?
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 center

7. Aerosol cans are made of metal. So, can they be recycled?
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 put it into the recycling separately.

8. What bin is best for birthdays and Christmas wrapping paper?
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.

9. Can takeaway coffee cups be recycled?
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 reusable cup.

10. Can I recycle colored 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, colored hard plastic packaging can still be turned into new objects like paint trays, garden furniture, guttering and drainpipes.


1. Fluorescent bulbs - take these back to your Household Recycling center 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 center

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 put 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 the paper bin

11. Yogurt pots - empty, rinse and remove any residue

12. Newspapers - remove any plastic packaging and place in the 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/aluminum cans – empty, rinse

17. Paper – valuable recyclable material only when clean. If paper is brown, it should be placed with cardboard.

18. Cardboard boxes – break down and place in the 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 put the plastic cap back on

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