What plastics can I recycle?

Ever been unsure if that yoghurt pot is good to recycle and put it in the recycling anyway hoping for the best? While your intentions are good, “wishcycling” can cause issues for the recycling plants machinery, contaminates other batches of otherwise good recyclable materials or simply just ends up in a landfill anyway.

Not all plastic is equal

All plastic is technically recyclable. But sometimes it’s just not worth the effort, some will simply be sent straight to the landfill anyway. That’s because when compared to creating these from their raw materials, it doesn’t make economical sense. We have to remember a recycling plant runs like a business. If it can’t make a profit recycling a material it won’t.

It used to be the case that many of these unprofitable plastics were shipped all the way to China where labor was cheap enough to result in a very slight profit. However with recent import rule changes this is no longer the case and off to the landfill it goes instead.

Many are stamped with little labels that tell us exactly which type it is. The thing is you need to know what those mean before they’re any use. So here’s the 7 types of plastic and the label each is associated with.

SymbolExamples£ per Tonne

PETE
soda & water bottles, soap bottles, traysClear bottles £280-330, Coloured bottles £90-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

HDPE
milk jugs, cleaning product bottles, shampoos, grocery bagsClear bottles £420-630, Coloured bottles £350-430, Mixed rigids £-60-140

PVC
cleaning supply jugs, Automotive product bottles, PipesMixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

LDPE
bread bags, paper towel & tissue wrap, squeeze bottlesMixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

PP
yogurt pots, cups, juice bottles, strawsMixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

PS
takeout containers, cd cases, insulation boardsMixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

OTHER
nylon, acrylicMixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140
Source https://www.wrap.org.uk/content/materials-pricing-report
Prices from Feb 2020

So our top value plastics are 1 & 2, especially in clear bottle form. The other plastics as they go down in value tend to be the ones not processed by recycling plants.

However not everything is marked, and much of the time this symbol is tiny, tucked away and hard to find. To simplify things try to stick to rigid clear plastics (bottles are especially “valuable”) over flimsy or foil like packaging.

Recycling icons explained

Along with the plastic type labels, your packaging will likely host a whole bunch of other symbols. Often confused with one another heres a summary of the common ones and exactly what they mean.

SymbolDescription
The Green Dot
Found on packaging in Europe this symbol means the producer has financially contributed in some way towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe. It does not indicate the packaging is recyclable, will be recycled or has been recycled.
Mobius Loop
This indicates the packaging could be recycled. However it does not mean it has been recycled or guarantee your local recycling centre is capable of recycling it.
Glass
This symbol means you should recycle the item with glass items such as your glass jars and bottles.
Recyclable aluminium
This symbol means the item is made from aluminium which is recyclable.
Recyclable steel
This symbol means the item is made from steel which is recyclable.
Most recycling authorities recycle steel cans. Other steel items may need to be taken to your local household recycling centre.
Tidyman
This symbol relates to the Keep Britain Tidy campaign. It asks you don’t litter but does not relate to recycling.
Waste electricals
This symbol means you should not dispose of the item in your general waste. Your local household recycling centre may be able to responsibly dispose and recycle these items.
Compostable
Packaging with this symbol is certified to be compostable and can be recycled with your garden waste. Plastics with this symbol are designed to breakdown and can contaminate other plastics if mixed into your regular recycling.
Home composting
This symbol means the packaging is suitable for home composting.
Paper, card and wood
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo identifies wood-based products from well managed forests independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC.
Source https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-knowledge/packaging-symbols-explained

Other Common Issues

A plastics type & value is not the only thing stopping it from being recycled.

Plastic bags are a common clogger of the sorting machines at your recycling plant. Unless otherwise stated by your local recycling authority don’t put these in with your regular recycling. Many supermarkets will have dedicated drop-off points for plastic bags so lookout for one next time.

Cleaning is essential. You won’t need to go crazy and get everything spotless but if there’s enough food residue still left this can contaminate whole batches of materials, not just that one item!

Action you can take

Try avoiding plastics as much as possible and opt for metal or glass packaging where possible. Glass jars and metal cans are much easier for recycling plants to separate and can be recycled indefinitely.

When you do choose plastic packaging try and opt for packaging thats recycled where you live. Clear and rigid plastics tend to be more valuable over films or flimsy plastics. It’s more likely that these valuable plastics are recycled where you live.

Opt for packaging made out of recycled plastics instead of virgin plastics. Recycling your plastic is just the first step and this helps increase the demand for recycled plastics too.

Reuse your plastic bottles and refill soaps at refill stations. Plastic is a durable material so make the most out of it.

And finally how about taking on some Microvist challenges. Now you know more about recycling take on Bin It With Love. Cut out plastic entirely and try No Plastic Waste Week or if that’s too tough, start with No Plastic Waste Bathroom or No Plastic Waste Food first.

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