To recycle or not to recycle: How to avoid unnecessary landfill waste

17/02/2020

Over the past ten years, natural disasters, record-breaking temperatures and rising sea levels have brought people and governments around the world face-to-face with the severe consequences of climate change. As a result, people are now more aware than ever before negative impact they can have on the environment.

For the majority of us, doing the best thing for the environment means reducing the amount of waste that ends up at landfill.

Research from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs* found that the UK produces 230m tonnes of waste per year – equivalent to 1.1kg per person every day. A further study published by Science Advances entitled ‘Production, Use, and Fate of all plastics ever made’** revealed that of 6,300 million tonnes of plastic waste generated worldwide, only 9% had been recycled, with 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. 

That’s where recycling comes in.

We have been told to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle, since the 1970s, and most of us will be recycling on a daily basis to reduce our household waste. However, there are still many misconceptions about items that can and cannot be recycled.

We surveyed 2,500 of our customers about the items they most commonly recycle, and found that more than three quarters (78%) of British consumers are still unaware of basic recycling rules. 

We asked our customers to list the items they typically place in their household recycling bins, with some surprising results. 

Here are the top ten common items people wrongly think can be recycled: 

  1.   Pizza boxes – Although made from cardboard, pizza boxes cannot be recycled due to contamination from grease and other food residue, which cause issues during the recycling process.
  2.   Plastic coffee pods – Due to their small size and the mixture of materials used to make them, the majority of mainstream, plastic coffee pods simply cannot be recycled and litter landfill sites in their millions. 
  3.   Paper receipts – Receipts printed on thermal paper contain BPA and BPS chemicals that are not only toxic to people in large quantities, but to the environment as well.
  4.   Miniature travel products – While many consumers assume it is safe to recycle miniature bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash, these toiletries cannot in fact be recycled and are a big contributor to single-use plastic waste.
  5.   Shredded paper - Shredding may be unavoidable when it comes to private documents, however some recycling centres will reject pieces of paper that are too small, as the length of paper fibres will determine if it can be recycled. 
  6. Takeaway coffee cups – The majority of recycling facilities cannot recycle takeaway cups due to the plastic lining or wax coating that allows them to contain hot beverages.
  7.   Pringles tubes – A mix of materials including a cardboard tube, metal bottom and plastic lid may keep their contents fresh but mean these tubes cannot currently be recycled with the rest of your cardboard and plastic.
  8.   Use napkins and paper towels – Not only does grease and other contaminants from used napkins make it impossible to recycle them, paper products also cannot be recycled because the fibres are usually too short to be used again.  
  9.   Photo paper – Although photographs are a paper product, the photographic process uses a mixture of chemicals that pose a potential contamination hazard.
  10. Broken glass – While whole glass items can be recycled, any broken glass in your bin can create a real hazard for anyone handling your recycling and should be put into normal household waste. 

Our experts have also put together a list of top tips to help reduce unnecessary landfill waste.

Always check your local recycling guide:

Believe it or not, different areas across the UK have different rules and recycling procedures, so it’s important to know what materials can or can’t be recycled in your local area. Each council website will offer a great deal of information about bins, rubbish and recycling, so it’s important to read up. 

Wash containers thoroughly before throwing them away:

Contamination is created when the wrong materials are put into the system and if contamination levels are too high when a load of recycling arrives at a centre for sorting, it can be rejected, diverting the whole truck to landfill. While a single, unwashed tin won’t cause a whole load to be rejected, it’s important to make sure you wash as much of your recycling as possible. 

Donate your clothes:

Despite consumers becoming more environmentally conscious, fast fashion is still a huge problem in the UK, with more clothes ending up in landfill every year. One of the easiest ways to reduce this is to donate your clothes - either to a local charity shop or a clothes collection bin. And if your clothes are unsuitable for donation, there are plenty of other creative ways to reuse old clothing, such as cushion covers, cleaning rags, tote bags and more.

Shop with reusable containers or tupperware:

In an effort to cut plastic waste, supermarkets across the UK offer customers the option to bring their own containers for foods such as raw meat, fish and cheese. Stores including Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and ASDA all offer this as an option to customers - an initiative which should be taken full advantage of. 

Avoid single use cups and bottles:

Despite constant calls for a complete ban on single-use plastics, single-use cups and bottles are still so common in our society. Plastic pollution is hugely damaging to our environment, but can be reduced with small changes, such as purchasing a reusable bottle for work, at home and at the gym. 

Don’t crush cans before recycling them:

While crushing a can with your hands, feet or even your head can be rather satisfying, it actually makes them harder to recycle, as machines at recycling facilities may not be able to recognise the shape, pushing them straight into the waste pile. 

Have a recycling bin in every room:

The majority of homes will have a single recycling bin in the kitchen and while this is typically where most waste is produced, it can be easy to neglect other rooms around the house. From cardboard toilet roll tubes and printer paper to magazines and empty bottles, placing recycling bins in other rooms around your home will reduce the number of recyclable materials that end up at landfill.