Daily Mail

How to recycle absolutely everything

From bras and contact lenses to coffee pods and toothpaste...

- By Louise Atkinson

Most of us like to think we’re pretty good at recycling, putting out our plastic and separating our cardboard. Yet, unfortunat­ely, in our age of mass consumeris­m just recycling the basics isn’t meeting the mark.

Figures from waste management charity WRAP show that 52 per cent of us miss the opportunit­y to recycle common household items. this means that as much as half of what could be recycled is going in the bin.

But can you put a broken wine glass in with your empty bottles? Kitchen roll in with your old newspapers? surely compostabl­e packaging goes in with plastics . . . right?

You may well be surprised at the answers. For while you might think you’re doing the right thing, it turns out you could be unwittingl­y consigning your entire recycling load to incinerati­on or landfill.

Part of the problem is that precisely what you can recycle, and in which bin, differs from one local authority to another, which means many of us — around 84 per cent, say WRAP — are chucking random items into recycling bins and hoping for the best.

It doesn’t help that the goalposts keep shifting, without anyone flagging it up.

For instance, black or brown plastic food containers were unrecyclab­le until recently, but now they can happily go in the box with clear plastics. Pizza boxes were previously rejected if slightly smeared with food, but the recycling machines are now better able to accept them.

Equally, the trigger spray section of a household cleaning product is happily recyclable, while the plastic pump on a shower gel or body lotion is not.

Aerosol cans can be recycled with other metals (as long as you remove the plastic lid), but all toothpaste­s have to go in the bin. Most confusing of all is that the clever new materials designed to be ‘compostabl­e’ — such as some coffee cups, bags and disposable cutlery — are causing all sorts of problems.

‘Any compostabl­e items should never go in with your recycling,’ warns Adam Herriott, a recycling expert at WRAP. ‘these are not

designed to be recycled with plastics, even though they might look very similar in structure. sadly, few of them are truly compostabl­e either. Even in a home composting unit they need to be sent separately to an industrial processor to be properly broken down.’

some local authoritie­s hand out different coloured recycling bins and bags (green, yellow, grey, blue, brown, red and even purple) and ask you to separate metals, plastics, food waste, glass and card from paper.

others run a ‘two-stream’ service asking householde­rs to put paper and card in one container and cans and bottles in another. then there are the ‘co-mingled’ collection­s where you tip all your recyclable­s into one big blue-topped bin to be sorted at the recycling plant. Is it any wonder we get confused?

to help, here is our essential guide to boost your recycling efforts and feel smugly green . . .


All clear and coloured plastic bottles, including cleaning products (with the trigger left on), detergent, shampoo, skin care and milk bottles can be recycled. Rinse them first — liquids can contaminat­e other recyclable­s, damage the machinery and make the bottles too heavy for the sorting process.

leave labels on, but flatten bottles to save space, and re-attach lid to increase the chance it doesn’t fall through the system and also gets recycled. Clear plastic bottles can be transforme­d back into bottles, and coloured hard plastic packaging can still be turned into new objects such as paint trays, garden furniture, guttering and drainpipes.


RInsE and recycle all clear or coloured plastic food containers, including yoghurt pots. Be sure to remove food residue and tear off thin plastic or foil lids to recycle separately with flimsy plastics.

though the type of plastic used to make plastic bags is recyclable, not all local authoritie­s have the machinery to do so efficientl­y.

If you don’t separate them from your other recycling, plastic bags can wrap around and jam recycling equipment, contaminat­e paper bales and cause problems at compost facilities. they blow off landfills and end up in waterways, oceans and seas.

However, you can bag-up clean and dry plastic films such as thin plastic bags, frozen food bags and bags used for fruit and veg in supermarke­ts, newspaper delivery bags, bread wrapping, shrink wrap from multi-pack drinks bottles, toilet paper wrapping, plastic magazine wrapping and bubble wrap and take them to the carrier bag collection point at your nearest supermarke­t.

Adam Herriott says these collection points also take crisp packets. the plastics are taken to specialist recycling centres in the

UK to be recycled into low-grade plastic pellets.

Check whether your local authority accepts tetra Pak-style cartons (if they don’t, they should direct you to a local collection point).


MAgAzInEs, newspapers, leaflets, computer paper and even envelopes with a window can be recycled. strip out the plastic lining of padded envelopes before putting the paper exterior into the recycling ( the plastic lining can be bagged up with other flimsy plastics).

Fold and flatten cardboard boxes (remove any sticky tape plus polystyren­e or plastic inserts first).

Pizza boxes are usually recyclable, even when stained or greasy (as long as no 3D food particles) but don’t try to recycle foil-based gift wrap, paper stained with grease, food or paint, tissues and paper towels, Post-it notes, wallpaper or books (the glue that binds the pages makes them difficult to recycle — books can be given to a charity shop instead).


DUvEts, pillows, bed linen, towels, curtains, cushion covers, cushion inners and bedding protection can be taken to the ‘take back’ areas of Dunelm stores

(see dunelm.com for locations) if washed and clean. Although ripped and damaged goods are also accepted, stained or grubby items should go in the bin.


THESE handy wet-food pouches are among the most difficult plastics to recycle because of their multiple layers — environmen­tally, tinned food is better (rinse and put with household recycling).

But if you gather up your empty pouches you can rinse them out then drop them off at plastic collection points in supermarke­ts such as sainsburys.co.uk or petsathome.com stores where they are recycled into low-grade plastic pellets.


ALTHOUGH make-up compacts, lipsticks, minis and samples can’t be recycled at home, you can drop them in the recycling box at your local Boots, which accepts these ‘hard-torecycle’ products.

The scheme also accepts roll- on and stick deodorant packaging, empty sachets, empty toothpaste tubes and the pumps from shower gels and soaps that won’t go into your normal plastic recycling.

These are then washed and recycled into composite constructi­on board similar to plywood. Go to boots.com to find a participat­ing store.


DON’T put textiles in a mixed recycling bin — it jams machinery at recycling facilities and production has to stop to cut textiles out. Instead, take (cleaned) clothes to the big ‘recycling points’ you find in supermarke­t and local car parks. Alternativ­ely, donate to charity shops. Another option is to take a bag of clothes (in any condition) to your nearest branch of H&M and get a £5 voucher to be used against your next purchase of £25 or more.

The bags are sorted and sold off as second- hand, used to make other products (such as cleaning cloths), or shredded into textile fibres and used to make, for example, insulation materials.

Marks & Spencer runs a similar service (called ‘ shwopping’) which allows you to put pre-loved clothes (also shoes, handbags, jewellery, belts, hats and scarves from any retailer) into a ‘ Shwop box’ by the tills. This earns you a ‘ free treat’ if you’re part of the M&S ‘Sparks’ reward scheme. The clothes are sent to Oxfam to be resold or reused.

At Primark you can put unwanted clothing, textiles, bags and footwear from any brand, in any condition (including towels and bedsheets) into donation boxes in stores.

Anything that can’t be worn or used again is repurposed into new products such as toy stuffing and insulation material.


ALTHOUGH unwanted lingerie can be taken to recycling points with other clothes, bras can be given a second life when donated to charity via boxes in stores such as bravissimo. com or at one of many ‘bra banks’. See againstbre­astcancer. org. uk for locations.


CHECK whether the home recycling scheme in your area accepts batteries. Many ask you to place batteries in a clear plastic bag tied to your recycling bin. Always remove batteries from toys, games or electrical items before recycling or binning them. This includes battery packs from laptops, mobile phones, power tools and remote-control units.


MOST single-use coffee pods cannot be recycled at home, but you can put compostabl­e pods into your food waste caddy, if your local authority collects food waste. Plastic and metal pods can be packaged up (collect a recycling bag from Morrisons or Ocado) and dropped off at a Collect+ site near you to be recycled through a scheme called podback.org.

The coffee is removed and used as a soil improver, aluminium pods are recycled into drinks cans and car components, and plastic pods are recycled to make furniture and industrial packaging.


ALTHOUGH most of us routinely tip used tea bags into the home food/ composting bin or garden waste collection if you have one in your area, this should only apply to plasticfre­e bags. Many brands have plastic fibres woven into the paper cases, or use a plastic-based glue to seal the edges which will not break down and decompose. Choose a plastic-free brand such as PG Tips, Twinings, Teapigs or Clipper.


PHONE your local authority to book a ‘bulky waste collection’, which costs £30 for up to four items.

Many retailers offer to take away your old mattress when you buy a new one and dispose of it ‘responsibl­y’ for a small fee. John Lewis charges £29.95 and dreams.co.uk £55. Springs are melted down, the mattress is shredded and turned into fuel pellets for cement production.


LENSES and the foil-topped plastic pouches that hold your contact lenses suspended in liquid present a recycling conundrum.

The cardboard boxes your lenses come in are easily recyclable and if you tear off the foil lid, the plastic pouches can go in household recycling with other plastics and your solution bottles (keep lids on). The actual lenses and the foil lids cannot be recycled at home, but you can take your used lenses and blister packs to branches of Specsavers or Boots Optician stores, where they are recycled into constructi­on materials.


ANY item that has a plug, uses batteries, needs charging or carries a picture of a crossed- out wheelie bin on the packaging should not be put in with general rubbish, as it contains components likely to be toxic or troublesom­e if the load ends up in landfill.

Some local authoritie­s accept small electrical­s as part of their home recycling scheme (check online). If yours does there may be special instructio­ns on how to put them out for collection — for example, place small electrical items in a clear plastic bag tied to your recycling bin.

Alternativ­ely, you can take your old electrical appliance with you when you buy a new one, as ‘Electrical Retailer Take- back rules’ mean retailers have an obligation to take back your old appliance whether you bought that product from that shop or not.

Online retailers should offer to collect your old appliance when delivering a new one. Visit recycleyou­r electrical­s.org.uk for informatio­n.

Currys PC World takes in unwanted electrical­s at any store, regardless of whether you are buying a new electrical item there or not, and gives you £5 towards your next purchase.

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