Survey Finds Confusion Over What to Put in Recycling Bins

Recycling Association Advice for Householders – “if in Doubt, Throw it Out”

UK Trade body, The Recycling Association has published new advice for householder that “if in doubt, throw it out“.

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UK Trade body, The Recycling Association has published new advice for householders to avoid contaminated recycling collections - “if in doubt, throw it out“.

The organisation said that it is providing this simple advice because the public are often unsure whether household items are recyclable or not.

Packaging is becoming increasingly complex, while local authorities can have completely different collection schemes compared to neighbouring ones adding to the confusion.

However, The Recycling Association is advising the public to always recycle clean, single material plastics, paper, metal cans and glass in the recycling bin.

If an item of packaging is made of multiple materials and you aren't sure whether it can be recycled or not, it is better to put it into the general waste bin than the recycling bin.

This is because almost one fifth of the material collected for recycling from households is material that cannot currently be recycled.

 We have thought for a while that the public are increasingly confused when looking at packaging items whether they can be recycled or not,” said the Recycling Association’s chief executive Simon Ellin said.

"Some people may think they should put it in the recycling just in case it can be recycled and do the right thing. But often, this can lead to more contamination of the materials that can genuinely be recycled,” he continued

"So our advice to people is If in doubt, throw it out as that is better than putting the wrong items in the recycling bin," concluded Ellin.

Our Survey Says

The advice has been backed up by a survey undertaken by The Recycling Association that found that the public know you can recycle the simplest household items, but get confused when the products are more complex.

Members of the public were questioned over whether they would recycle common household packaging in their recycling bin at home or not, or whether they were unsure. The results were:

  • 100% of respondents said they would recycle a baked bean can after the beans had been eaten
  • A total of 42% said they recycled a black meat tray with a clear plastic film covering, 44% did not, while 14% were unsure
  • People were more confident about recycling a spray detergent bottle, with 89% saying they put it in their recycling at home, only 9% did not, and just 3% were unsure
  • When it came to a paper envelope with a plastic window for the address, 75% of people would put these in the recycling bin, 21% would not and 4% were unsure.

Ellin concluded: "For a while now, The Recycling Association has been campaigning for more responsibility throughout the supply chain to make recycling easier for the public to do. All too often, the packaging designers, manufacturers and retailers leave it to local authorities and the recycling sector to sort this out.

“But unless the public are given packaging items that are easy to understand, inevitably items that shouldn't be included for recycling end up in the recycling bin.

"Our survey backs up our view that many common household items are confusing the public when it comes to knowing whether they can be recycled or not. People generally get that you can recycle a can, a plastic bottle or a cardboard box. The one thing that unites all of these is that they tend to be simple products made from one material.

"But when it comes to more complex multi-material packaging and products, people become less sure. This means that some people will put items in their recycling bin that may not be recyclable, and contaminate recyclable products.

"We would also like to see more consistency in local authority collections too. For example, some local authorities collect black plastic meat trays and some don't, even though this is currently a challenging material to recycle."

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