Now that this title has got you interested, let us get a little disclaimer out of the way. The information in this blog is to do just that, inform. This is to show the common misconceptions about recycling, and hopefully give an idea as to how important it is to live with less waste, rather than continue to buy excess packaging (particularly plastic) and use recycling as an excuse. However, this blog is not discouraging recycling, it is simply stressing how important it is for us to do everything in our power to reduce our consumption of waste and plastic. Second disclaimer, the recycling process is so complicated, and many facilities are not as advanced as others, so these are general comments which cover MOST of the UK. There are of course exceptions. It is always best to check with your local council to know exactly what you can and cannot put in your bin. But again, the best thing – is to reduce your waste.

I want to tell you 3 recycling facts which will explain just how important living with less waste is. 

The Science

Did you know that many items can’t be recycled, but are actually down-cycled. When they go in the machine, they are shredded and melted, coming out weaker than before. Glass and metal molecules reform just as strong, but plastic and paper are literally torn to shreds. Recycling is just prolonging the inevitable fact that these plastics will end up in landfill. The idea that we can recycle our way out of this problem is a myth.


When we recycle, we have to be so careful not to contaminate our bins. Whether that’s from not washing out properly or putting the wrong materials in, as soon as our trucks are filled with even a small amount of incorrect waste, it is not worth the time, effort or money to sort it out. Have you ever noticed why some councils recycle a large variety of plastic, but yours might only take bottles? The recycling process is so complicated, and some facilities are not as advanced as others. It feels like you need a PhD in recycling just to get it right. Just one person making a mistake can ruin a truck load, sending a whole street’s worth of recycling straight to the landfill. Reduce and avoid as much packaging as possible, and you avoid the need to recycle in the first place. 


As of last year, China, previously the world’s largest importer of waste said it wasn’t going to be the world’s dumping ground any more. And rightly so. But this means all of a sudden, the UK can’t cope with the amount of waste we’re producing, and recycling centres are overwhelmed meaning actually a lot is going straight to landfill anyway. Landfill, the graveyard for rubbish, is never an ideal solution. Now we are hearing news from countries such as Malaysia that our waste is on its way back! They are not putting up with it anymore, and we have got to deal with our own mess! 

Plastic waste are piled outside an illegal recycling factory in Jenjarom, Kuala Langat, Malaysia October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

If you want to know more about the politics and horrific truth about where our recycling goes. Please watch BBCs ‘War on Plastic’. This is a shocking unveiling of where the UK (and many other western countries) ship their waste away to. It is unacceptable that we ship this waste away, and to countries which do not have the infrastructure to deal with it. It is horrifying to see UK branded goods littering and polluting the environment in countries across the world. We (as consumers and recyclers) are being lied to. We are diligently recycling thinking this is the right thing, while simultaneously trying to fight for environmental and social justice. Now we have the truth, we as individuals and a society need to make a change. The government is not dealing with this waste crisis – so we have to. We have to stop consuming goods in excess packaging and plastic.

There are several items which commonly can and cannot be recycled, which cause confusion and potentially contaminate our recycling, or mean we miss out on being able to recycle fully!

Tin foil

If scrumpled into a ball the size of your fist, or shoved inside an old can, these can be recycled just like any other metal item!

Pizza boxes

(and cardboard/paper with food stuffs and oil residue) – these cannot be recycled, because the oil binds the fibres together and makes recycling difficult!


Glass which we use for cooking/utensils – glass such as in a wine glass or drinking glass cannot be recycled like other glass, it is a different type and will contaminate other recycled glass. Around 1 wine glass worth of wrong glass could contaminate as much as one tonne of recycled glass, causing it to shatter easily by the mixing of types

Milk Bottle Tops

Milk bottle tops are made from a different bottle to the bottle, which is less commonly recycled. This means that most of the time they have to be recycled separately, however the machines cannot pick up the small lids themselves. Best option is to remove the lid, recycled the bottle, and find a bottle lid recycling project for the tops – Lush does a good one. However really you should be getting milk in glass bottles or making your own dairy-free alternatives to avoid this plastic.

Black Plastic

Black plastic trays commonly cannot be recycled.

If you are looking for a more in-depth look into the world of recycling, you should look into reading the book ‘What we throw away and where it goes’ by Everyday Plastic (@everydayplastic). It is full of everyday items which we use and throw away, and then the reality of where it ends up.

We have the power as consumers to change what is available. In Scotland alone there are over 10 dairies which have now switched BACK to milk in glass bottles after consumers DEMANDED change. They switched what the provide because we want different. Shops are now offering plastic free aisles, or going fully packaging free, because of what we want. You would be surprised of the power from one email or conversation to a local shop/business about plastic. It can change how things are done.

What are the things you most want plastic or packaging free? Let us know!



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