15 common recycling myths debunked

Metro.co.uk‘s Just1Change campaign is encouraging readers to realise the small changes they can make to help save the planet.

Recycling is an effortless way to ensure that you’re reducing your waste as much as possible – as long as you do it properly.

Despite hauling our wheelie bins out every week, many of us are still making critical mistakes that mean our environmental efforts aren’t the only things going to waste.

Here are the most common recycling errors explained, and eco-friendly myths debunked.

You need to separate your recycling

Answer: It depends.

Whether or not your recycling needs to be separated into plastics, metals, paper, and glass is dependent on where you live.

Some refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) have separate compartments close together within the vehicle – this makes it easier for the items to be processed at recycling centres.

However, some councils use RCVs that combine all the recycling into one, and then they are separated by hand at the centre.

Use the government’s postcode checker to find out what the rules are for your area.

You can’t recycle face masks

Answer: False.

What was once a coveted rarity now litters our streets – the surge of single-use face masks is an environmental nightmare in the making.

Fortunately, you can recycle your face masks at special collection bins located in 150 Wilko stores nationwide.

Wilko estimates that a huge 400,000 masks could be recycled via the scheme. This equates to a whopping 966kg of single-use plastic.

Find your nearest Wilko face mask recycling bin on the Wilko website.

You will also find the recycling bins at 438 Morrison’s stores nationwide

The full list of participating Morrison’s stores can be found on the ReWorked website – they are the company that recycle the masks.

Once full, collection bins are taken away by ReWorked, where – after a 72-hour quarantine period – masks are washed and shredded down into raw materials, which can be manufactured into new products.

You can’t recycle crisp packets

Answer: False.

Whether you snack on salt and vinegar or prefer a prawn cocktail, you can actually recycle your empty crisp packets.

Although the packets should not be put in your recycling bin at home, you can pop them in one of Walkers’ 1,600 public drop-off locations nationwide.

There is a drop-off location within four miles of 80% of UK households – find your local one on the Walkers’ website. 

The packets will be cleaned, shredded, and turned into small pellets which will be converted into plastic items.

Any brand of crisp packets – not just Walkers – will be accepted.

However, Pringles lovers will have to take their empty cans to a Bring Bank – find your nearest drop-off location on the Pringles’ website.

You can recycle wrapping paper

Answer: It depends.

Wrapping paper can be recycled in the UK – but it has to be a certain type of paper.

While it is best to check with your local council or recycling scheme if they accept wrapping paper or not, some guidelines for checking if the wrapping paper you are using can be recycled are as follows:

  • Avoid wrapping paper that is very thin as this contains very few good quality fibres and often cannot be recycled
  • Recycle Now say that wrapping paper can only be recycled if it passes the ‘scrunch test’, which essentially means if the wrapping can be scrunched up in a paper ball (and if it stays that way) then it more than likely will be widely recyclable
  • The simpler your chosen paper, the better. Brown paper is one of the best, followed by plain paper colours that are not shiny. This is because simple wrapping paper that is good quality can be recycled, whereas shiny foil or glitter-decorated paper cannot
  • Avoid wrapping paper that is heavily dyed, laminated, decorated in gold or silver patterns, coloured shapes, any type of glitter

The wrapping paper packaging should also have some information on it as to whether the paper can be recycled.

There are also plenty of companies that sell recyclable, or even compostable wrapping paper – including The Doodle Factory, Re-wrapped, and Paperchase.

You can’t recycle pizza boxes

Answer: True.

Don’t put greasy pizza boxes, takeaway boxes, or other cardboard or paper covered in food into the recycling.

The grease can’t be removed and it causes defects in new products made from recycled cardboard.

Recycle Now says that pizza boxes should be chucked in the general bin and not in green ones.

Want a low-waste pizza pie? Try making your own at home.

You shouldn’t crush cans

Answer: It depends.

Despite the fact that crushing cans with your bare hands is oddly satisfying – you should avoid it if you want a chance of your empty drink being recycled.

Sean Pettitt, the director of Purely Waste Solutions, previously explained to Metro.co.uk: ‘If you put all of your recyclables in the same bin which then goes to a materials recovery facility to be segregated, it can make it harder for a squashed can to be separated.

‘The reason for this is that it is easier for equipment to sort intact aluminium cans due to the larger surface area of the material for the eddy current separator to detect. The same applies to the steel cans for the magnet to remove this material in the process.’

But there’s a caveat – if your recycling is separated from the get-go, with cans placed in a separate bin or bag to plastic and paper, then crushing your cans is totally fine.

In fact, says Sean, ‘it would be beneficial to crush the cans to save space, to get more material in a container and make transportation more efficient.’

If you’re unsure as to whether or not you can crush your can, it is safer to leave it uncrushed.

You need to wash recycling

Answer: True.

Though it means extra effort on your part, washing your recycling is integral to making sure it actually gets recycled.

By not washing your recycling, you run the risk of ruining everything, and diverting the whole recycling load – not just yours – to landfill.

A spokesperson for North London Waste Authority previously explained to Metro.co.uk: ‘Food residue is a form of contamination because food residue left on containers cannot be reliably processed.

‘Contamination is created when the wrong materials are put into the system (e.g. nappies in the recycling bin) or when the right materials are prepared in the wrong way (e.g. food left in containers).

‘If contamination levels are too high when a recycling load arrives at the facility, it might have to be rejected.  If this is the case, then the whole load is sent to be burnt for energy or to landfill.’

Putting non-recycles in the recycling bin will contaminate everything

Answer: True.

Have you ever been unsure if something is recyclable, and so decide to put it in the recycling bin ‘to be safe’?

Although you have the best intentions, improper recycling has consequences for the whole waste management system.

Any materials put in a recycling bin which can’t be recycled are called contaminants.

Not only can contaminants damage the equipment, but if a collection crew notices a contaminant in amongst the recycling, the whole contents of the container will be collected as refuse and sent for disposal rather than being recycled – meaning it ends up in landfill.

If contamination isn’t noticed until large amounts are seen when the vehicle is emptied, the entire truckload may have to be sent for disposal.

In March, the Local Government Association revealed that over half a million tonnes of recycling is rejected – this is mainly down to contamination.

If you’re not sure if, how or where you can recycle an item, use the Recycle Now ‘What To Do With’ tool to find out.

Remember: if in doubt, leave it out.

You need to remove plastic tape from packaging

Answer: True.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the shopping game forever, with more and more of us defaulting to buying online rather than on the high street.

The result? A heck of a lot more packaging.

Although cardboard boxes are fully recyclable, sticky tape is not and should be thrown away in your rubbish bin.

Where possible, try to remove all loose strands of sticky tape from cardboard boxes and wrapping paper before you recycle them.

Leaving the adhesive tape on your boxes could result in them becoming contaminated, and sent to a landfill rather than to a recycling centre.

Broken glass can be recycled

Answer: It depends.

Broken glass can sometimes be recycled, but councils often won’t accept it in a kerbside bin, as it risks injuring workers.

You might need to take it to a bottle bank or local recycling centre.

You should check your local council’s website to find out how they recommend disposing of broken glass.

It is worth noting that the following types of glass also cannot be recycled:

  • Glass panes 
  • Toughened glass panes 
  • Mirrors 
  • Light bulbs or fluorescent tubes

The above must be placed in your regular waste bin, or to Take large pieces of broken glass to your nearest Household Recycling Centre.

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Aerosol cans can’t be recycled

Answer: False.

Aerosol cans can be recycled using your recycling bins or bags – so long as they are empty.

Ensure you check that your cans of deodorant, furniture polish, air fresheners are totally empty before popping them in your recycling bin.

Soft plastic can’t be recycled

Answer: (Largely) False.

Soft plastics are lightweight plastics that often cannot be placed in recycling bins at home.

This includes plastic shopping bags, yoghurt lids, and food wrappers.

Some types of soft plastic can be recycled at carrier bag collection points at the larger stores of major supermarkets such as the Co-Operative and Sainsbury’s.

Larger stores of major supermarkets accept:

  • All plastic bags, except biodegradable or compostable bags
  • Bread bags
  • Breakfast cereal liners
  • Bubble wrap
  • Delivery bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Frozen food bags
  • Magazine and newspaper wrappers
  • Multi-pack wrapping
  • Plastic marked as low-density polyethylene (LDPE) – resin ID code 4
  • Toilet roll wrapping

Selected stores of major supermarkets also accept:

  • Baby, pet food, detergent and cleaning pouches
  • Biscuits and chocolate wrapping
  • Cheese, fish and meat wrapping
  • Cling film
  • Crisp and sweet bags
  • Plastic film lids
  • Salad, pasta, and rice bags

Find your nearest soft plastic collection point using Recycle Now’s postcode checker.

Shredded paper can’t be recycled

Answer: True.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but shredded paper cannot always be recycled.

Many paper mills won’t accept it as shredded pieces are too small to be collected through the Materials Recycling Facility (MFR).

London Recycles suggests disposing of shredded paper by one of the following methods:

  • Take it to a paper bank
  • Add it to your home compost; No coloured or glossy paper which can contain chemicals that are harmful to plants
  • Place some in the bottom of your food waste recycling bin to soak up any liquid and help prevent dripping (again no coloured or glossy paper)
  • Throw in your rubbish bin

Paper towels and tissues are recyclable

Answer: False.

The cardboard inner tube of kitchen rolls and boxes of tissues is widely collected as part of household recycling schemes.

However, of the time, kitchen rolls and tissues aren’t suitable for recycling.

This is because kitchen rolls may be contaminated with food waste, meaning that they are classed as contaminants.

As mentioned before, contaminants can cause the whole recycling load to be sent to landfill.

Used sheets of kitchen roll should be placed in your rubbish bin unless you council tells you otherwise.

Some will allow you to put a small amount of kitchen towel in the food waste bin – check with your local authority in the first instance.

Tissues can’t be recycled as they are made of very short fibres which are not high enough quality to be recycled.

They will need to be disposed of in your waste bin.

Lastly, recycling is a waste of time

Answer: False.

Although recycling isn’t a perfect process (yet), it is far better for humans, animals, and the planet than the alternative.

Recycling plays a major role in reducing the amount of waste being burned in incinerator plants or being deposited in landfills.

If we didn’t recycle, then the waste materials would just decompose and produce dangerous chemicals and pollute the environment for many years to come.

Also, resources such as oil and precious metals are finite, and so will one day run out. Through recycling, many of these natural resources are being conserved for future use.

Additionally, recycling has a positive impact on the economy.

Dumping 10,000 tons of waste in a landfill creates six jobs while recycling 10,000 tons of waste creates 36 jobs, RReuse.org claims.

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