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Waste Expert Reveals the Seven Items You Think Can Go in Your Recycling Bin, But They Can’t

According to research from Wrap, 82% of households throughout the UK regularly add at least one item to their recycling collection that isn’t accepted at their local recycling centre. This shows that though there’s a shift in public consciousness to being more sustainable and eco-friendly, there’s a lack of education around what can’t be recycled.


In particular, a lot of that misinformation comes from the public being told that everything should be recycled, whereas many households don’t know that many materials and items shouldn’t go in bins at home. Here are seven of the most common items that many think can go in the recycling bin that actually can’t.


Food wrappers and containers
Packages and food containers usually come with symbols on the labels or printed into the plastic stating they can be recycled. This refers to the material it’s made of being recyclable, but if there’s an overwhelming amount of food contaminants, it cannot be recycled. For example, pizza boxes and coffee cups can’t be recycled due to the oil and coffee contaminating the cardboard, which can cause damage to the machines at the local centres.


Scott Hawthorne from Skips & Bins, a leading supplier of hire skips in the UK, says he disapproves of washing containers to recycle them: “In the long run, washing your packaging contributes to more CO2 emissions by using the hot water to rinse out your packages. Tins and jars are fine to rinse out, but the plastic packaging that can contain raw ingredients is usually best to throw out. Especially if they have had film lids that aren’t recyclable stuck to them.”

Of all the packaging materials, polystyrene causes a lot of confusion with home recyclers. Distinguishing what type of polystyrene you have is important. While expanded polystyrene (EPS) can be recycled as it’s only 2% plastic and can be reused, classic polystyrene can’t be. This is because the material is made of a liquid hydrocarbon called styrene, which isn’t recyclable and must be disposed of in your general waste.


Aerosol cans
While aerosol cans are mostly recyclable, with an estimated 60% being made from tinplated steel and 40% of aluminium, placing them into your recycling collection can be dangerous. This is due to the pressurised gas still contained within the canisters, so if they aren’t entirely empty, they can explode when compressed into bales at the recycling centres.


Some recycling centres do not accept aerosols due to the danger of explosion, so it’s good to check whether your local centre does. If they do, ensuring they’ve been properly emptied of all gas is important before placing them into your recycling collection and that no damage or modification has been done to them.


Pots and pans
Your well-loved pots and pans are made of metal, so surely they can be recycled? If they’re in good condition and you want to replace them, you can donate them to a charity shop. However, these can be non-stick coated or enamelling, which means they’re not suitable for your recycling bin. However, they might be accepted at local recycling centres.


Pyrex, drinking glasses, and broken glass
Like your pots and pans, you may look at Pyrex and drinking glasses cluttering up your cupboards and think it’s time to recycle them. These items are made from specialist glass materials that are different from bottles or jars of food and drink unsuitable for recycling.

In this same vein, broken glass should never be put in your recycling bin. It can be extremely dangerous for the workers dealing with it, especially when left loose in a recycling bin. Instead, wrapping it up carefully and clearly labelling it as potentially dangerous is the perfect alternative to keeping it safe and separate from your other recyclables.

Scott Hawthorne 

Clothes, shoes, and other textiles
Second-hand clothes, shoes, and other textiles like sheets and towels can’t be put in your recycling bin. If they’re not in too bad condition, it’s a better option to take them to a charity shop, but otherwise, it’s best just to throw them away.


Greeting cards and wrapping paper
For households that may have had birthdays or special occasions, you can quickly find yourself inundated with wrapping paper and cards that take up every square inch of surface space in your home. It’s paper and card, so there shouldn’t be a problem putting it straight into the recycling bin. This isn’t always the case, as if the wrapping paper contains laminated plastic or is foil-lined, it’ll need to be disposed of in waste bins.

Most greeting cards can be recycled, but it’s important to note what’s adorned on the front. If your card has glitter glued to it, you’ll likely need to do your best to remove it, as glitter is plastic and can’t be recycled.

Scott Hawthorne
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