8 common recycling mistakes that are ruining your efforts

8 common recycling mistakes that are ruining your efforts

Recycling can do wonders for the environment - providing you're doing it right, that is. Unfortunately, a few recycling mistakes here and there can contaminate your whole wheely bin and render it useless.

Are you making recycling mistakes? Today we're sharing the most common errors to help make your recycling efforts fruitful.

Together, we can make a real positive impact on the environment - get recycle-smart today!

1. Removing labels

remove label recycling
There's really no need.

Are you put off recycling food jars due to their extremely sticky labels?

Guess what? There's actually no reason to remove them at all!

One of the most common recycling mistakes is the misconception that labels must be removed before rubbish can be recycled.

2. Do you have to empty containers before recycling?

And the answer is...yes!

The main problem with leaving liquids and sauces inside bottles and jars is that they can seep into paper and cardboard, and contaminate them.

If you really want to recycle properly and do your bit for the environment, be sure to empty your containers before putting them into the recycling bin.

3. Why is it important to separate recycling?

Many homes around the UK now have 'kerbside sort schemes' - which involve residents themselves sorting recycling themselves into the correct bins. There are also 'two-stream' systems (with paper and card collected in one bin and cans, plastic bottle and glass bottles and jars in another), and 'co-mingled' systems, which use one bin for all recyclables.

4. Lining recycling bins with bin bags

Plastic bags - be that the shopping kind or the bin-bag kind - are not recyclable!

Due to safety reasons, bags aren't always opened at recycling-sorting facilities. This means if you're putting your recycling in a black bin bag, it may not end up being recycled at all.

Do it right - skip the bag!

5. Why washing recycling is important

recycling tin can
Wash it first!

Despite popular belief, your leftovers can't actually be recycled.

Most ready meal boxes themselves can go in your recycling bin, however, the problem lies in their contents. Leftover food, whether it be jam, sponge pudding or lasagne, can leak onto other items such as paper, soak in and contaminate them.

To avoid your recycling ending up in landfill, be sure to give it a quick wash first.

 6. Not removing tape & plastic

It's often tempting to throw your cardboard boxes and envelopes straight into the recycling bin, but this could be doing more harm than good.

Plastic tape cannot be recycled, so be sure to remove it from cardboard boxes first. Similarly, the windows in paper envelopes need to be removed and thrown away in your general waste bin, before you recycle the paper.

These extra steps may seem like a lot of effort, but you'll soon get into the habit - before you know it, recycling properly will be second nature!

7. Recycling the wrong things

It's amazing how many people aren't educated on what belongs in your recycling, and what doesn't. We've listed the most common recycling mistakes below to help keep you on track.

8. Recycling extremely small items

recycling plastic bottle top post it note
If it's smaller than a post-it-note, it belongs in the bin.

If it's smaller than a post-it-note, it can't be recycled.

Once collected, recycling must be sorted. Anything extremely small in size cannot always be sorted properly, and may end up contaminating correctly-sorted recycling as a result.

The most-commonly recycled items that aren't actually recyclable

1. Straws

There's a reason we're discouraged from using straws - unless they're made of paper, they can't actually be recycled.

If you are going to use one, be sure to put it in the bin, not the recycling.

2. Coffee cups can't be recycled

coffee cup recycling
What a waste!

Coffee cups may appear to be made of paper, but they actually contain plastic.

A plastic layer on the inside of your coffee cup is what prevents it from leaking, but also, sadly, makes it unrecyclable.

3. Used kitchen roll

Clean kitchen roll can be recycled (not that we'd recommend doing that!) however once used, it's only good for the bin.

The spillages on the paper can contaminate other recyclables and make the whole load unfit for sorting.

4. Shiny wrapping paper

Even birthdays and Christmas time present an opportunity to do your bit for the environment.

Most plain wrapping paper can be recycled, however, anything metallicized or shiny can only go in the bin.

Remember to remove any lingering sellotape too!

5. Soap dispenser tops

recycling mistakes soap dispenser tops
There's only one place for soap dispenser pumps - the bin.

Whilst your clean soap dispensers do belong in your plastic recycling bin, unfortunately, the tops don't.

Be sure to remove them before throwing them away to enable your recycling to be sorted correctly.

6. Plastic bags

We've already briefly mentioned this, but plastic bags (of any kind), cannot be recycled.

If you've still not invested in a Bag For Life, now's the time.

7. Glass other than jars/bottles

recycling glass jars
Remember: jars & bottles ONLY!

Glass recycling points have small, circular holes for a reason - only bottles and jars are meant to be put inside.

Anything else, such as glass from windows, does not belong in your recycling bin.

8. Pet food pouches/rice packets

Pet food pouches and microwaveable rice pouches may be convenient, but there's a price to pay: they're not recyclable.

9. Photo paper

Due to the special coating on photo paper, it's not suitable for recycling - don't contaminate your paper bin by including it.

10. Greasy pizza boxes

Similarly to food containers, pizza boxes that are stained with grease and sauce can no longer be recycled.

This is worth bearing in mind if takeout pizza is something you treat yourself to often!

11. Shredded paper

shredded paper recycling mistake
It's just TOO small!

Despite popular belief, shredded paper shouldn't be recycled. As it's smaller than a post-it-note, it's unable to be sorted and could, therefore, contaminate other materials.

The most common items that people don't know are recyclable

12. Kitchen foil and trays

Don't throw your kitchen foil and aluminium trays away - providing you give them a good scrub first, they can go in your recycling bin along with the rest of your metals.

13. Plastic bottle tops

plastic bottle tops recycling
Who knew?!

We're not sure where this rumour started, but plastic bottle caps needn't be removed before you recycle the bottles themselves. The whole thing can be recycled once empty and swilled out.

Who knew?!

14. Empty aerosols (and the caps!)

Aerosols are another mysterious item many people don't really know if they can recycle or not.

Well, turns out you can not only recycle the aerosol, but its cap too! Next time you finish your deodorant, hairspray, or even furniture polish, be sure to pop it into the recycling bin.

 

15. Empty bleach bottles

Despite the harsh chemicals, empty bleach bottles canin fact, be recycled.

All rubbish, including recycling, is washed thoroughly at a special facility, so there is no need to worry about a drop of bleach or two.

16. Metal lids

metal jar lids recycling
Yes, they're recyclable!

Another recycling mistake many people make is removing metal jar lids.

These too can be recycled - just take care to separate them from glass if you have a 'kerbside sort scheme' in operation.

Editors Note: Recycling guidelines vary from county-to-county. Please check with your local council if you're unsure about what you can and can't recycle.

Do you have any recycling tips you'd like to share with us? Comment below with yours.
Author

Stephanie C

Editor

Lover of all things fashion & foodie...I look to satisfy my tastes without obliterating my budget. Wannabe interior designer, I'm an avid cushion cover maker and charity shop hunter.

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  1. Author April on April 16, 2018 at 8:14 am

    Thanks for the tips but one of them is confusing and contradictory e.g we CAN recycle plastic bottle tops but according to the image we CAN'T recycle them because they are smaller than a post it note. Which is it? Thanks

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 16, 2018 at 10:07 am

      Hi April, This is why it's important to leave the plastic tops ON the bottles - if not they are too small to be recycled alone! I hope that helps :)

    2. Author Mandy P on April 16, 2018 at 1:42 pm

      My local Council requests that bottle tops are removed from plastic bottles and put in non recyclable bin. I keep them and save them up to craft with, you can make some really funky plant pots, waste bins and containers from them (have a look on Pinterest!). If you have a a council like mine that recycles the bare minimum to comply with the pathetic Government targets it may be worth offering bottle tops to Primary Schools etc.

    3. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:54 pm

      Hi Wendy. We love using packaging to craft with too. We'd love to see some of the things you've made! :)

    4. Author Nun Yabiznes on April 18, 2018 at 6:20 pm

      Hi Stephanie, You might want to make and amendment or post script that says to always check with your local recycling company, because where I live, you can NOT recycle ANY container lids on or off jars or bottles. We also have green recycling and we can recycle greasy pizza boxes, shredded paper and used paper towels.

    5. Author Stephanie C on April 19, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Nun, I'm adding a note in now - who knew it could be so complicated!

    Reply
  2. Author Carol on April 16, 2018 at 8:20 am

    You may not be able to recycle shredded paper in your kerbside bin, but your compost bin will welcome it and you can recycle it that way!

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 16, 2018 at 10:05 am

      Hi Carol, A wonderful tip - thanks a lot for sharing! :)

    Reply
  3. Author Lesley Reeves on April 16, 2018 at 8:56 am

    I didn't know lids can be recycled - I just throw mine in the rubbish bag, but now will start puting them in the recycling bin. Thanks for that info. I wish all recycling bins were the same - it's difficult to know what is recyclable - my local council tell us not to put yoghurt pots in our recycling bin but the plastics recycling bank at a local supermarket states that yoghurt pots can be recycled there. It's so confusing.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Lesley. We've received lots of comments on this article and most of you seem to be saying the same: recycling is SO confusing and it would be much easier if there were national guidelines!

    Reply
  4. Author Verifies! on April 16, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Isn’t that a little contradictory saying anything smaller than a post it note can’t be recycled, yet it’s o.k. To leave bottle tops on bottles.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 16, 2018 at 10:04 am

      Hi there, Once the bottle top is ON the bottle, the object is much bigger than a post-it note. That's why it's important to recycle them on the bottle and not alone. I hope this helps :) Steph

    Reply
  5. Author Carol Fosbrook on April 16, 2018 at 9:21 am

    Can you add light bulbs and where they go please,.I know batteries go to certain shops that will take them but does everyone?

    Reply
  6. Author Anne S on April 16, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Actually our local council have said we don’t need to remove windows from envelops anymore

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 16, 2018 at 10:04 am

      Hi Anne, This has just come to my attention to and I'll be changing the article in due course. Thanks a lot for the info! :)

    Reply
  7. Author jay on April 16, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Some contradictory information here: first you say regarding small items "if it's smaller than a Post-it note it's too small", then you say that plastic bottle tops CAN be recycled. Aren't they smaller than Post-it notes? Rules vary from one local authority to another - it isn't a One Size Fits all system. In my area we have FOUR bins and all labels from cans and jars have to be removed because paper goes into one bin, glass metal and plastic in another. I've lived in some places where only two bins are used. This is why recycling is so confusing.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 16, 2018 at 9:39 am

      Hi Jay, Let me explain - the reason plastic bottle tops should be recycling ON the bottles is because they are smaller than a post-it note, i.e, too small to be sorted. I have recently moved from a property that had a kerb-side sort scheme that you speak of - where ALL recycling is sorted into 4 bins - and they can be quite tricky!

    Reply
  8. Author Arblemarch J Fruitbat on April 16, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Our local council asks us to recycle shredded paper by putting it underneath other paper in the removable section of the wheelie bin. They tell us that envelope windows can be left on the envelope, but I remove them anyway. I don't share your view that bottle tops cannot be recycled due to their size... If that were the case, the council would have notified us. And the paper labels on cans should be removed because it is easy to do so... There is usually a line of glue but this stays attached to the can if you rip the label off correctly. My polluted paper goes in the compost bin.

    Reply
  9. Author Debra Jeffery on April 16, 2018 at 11:20 am

    We have been told by our local council to use plastic carrier bags for putting the food waste in. Although we buy the bio-degradable bags for our. But this is confusing, why do you say we can't use carrier bags but the councils do. I think all councils should be the same at collecting stuff. it is so confusing all around the country it is different.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Debra, Biodegradable bags are the only bags you should use in your small bin. Some recycling collectors may be happy to empty the contents out of the bin and plastic bag in one go, meaning this isn't an issue. We agree, it can be very confusing!

    Reply
  10. Author Smudge on April 16, 2018 at 11:45 am

    For foil and aluminium trays, it depends on your local area whether these can go in the recycling. Same with the aluminium tubes that hold things like tomato puree. Aluminium really should be one of the easiest and cost efficient things to recycle, but some councils just don't have the facilities to process it, and tell their residents to put these items in general household waste.

    Reply
  11. Author Anne on April 16, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    Hello, I always read your tips and find many of them both interesting and useful, but the tips on recycling are confusing and misleading, as it depends on where you live and the contract your local authority has with their recyclers. I have checked today with my local council who tell me that 1) we do not have to take the windows out of window envelopes; 2) there is no limit to the size of items to be recycled and therefore 3) we can continue to put shredded paper into the recycling and bottle tops do not need to be attached to the bottles; 4) coffee cups, and indeed fruit juice cartons, can be recycled; 5) tops of soap dispensers can also be recycled. Perhaps a note a note at the end of the article, suggesting readers check with their local councils, may be a good addition.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Hi Anne, Although this article was written with the best intentions, and after much research and talking with our own council, it does seem that guidelines vary from area to area. Thanks for pointing this out and I'll be sure to add a note in :)

    Reply
  12. Author Robert Walpole on April 16, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    Why should we bother? 99% of the world does not bother, and us recycling the other 1% achieves next to nothing. The whole thing is just too complicated. Government should put pressure on manufacturers to only use packaging that is easily recycled.

    Reply
  13. Author Louise Comb on April 16, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you Stephanie for another interesting and useful article. I didn't know that we could recycle bottle lids if they're attached to the bottles, and I've always wondered about things like pizza boxes and whether a bit of food residue means not putting it in the recycled. XXX

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Louise, I'm so glad you enjoyed the article! Even I was reminded of a few good-recycling habits writing this one. Hope to see you again on the blog soon :)

    Reply
  14. Author Brian Goospeed on April 16, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    Hi, Our Recycling Centres will take shredded paper, I also remove can labels to put in with the paper. Most of our bottle caps have to be removed although the staff are always helpful with advice if asked.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:41 pm

      Hi Brian. That's interesting! It's fascinating (if a little confusing) to see that the guidelines seem to vary from place-to-place. Thanks for sharing :)

    Reply
  15. Author Donatello46 on April 17, 2018 at 8:39 am

    Some observations on this blog: While I don’t line recycling bins with bin bags, I DO use a carrier bag for paper in my “black box”. The reason is that there are often small(ish) pieces of paper and they can often get blown away down the street, I’ve discussed this with my recycling bin men and they are quite happy to tip the contents into the paper segment of their wagon and return the carrier bag with the box. To check if wrapping paper is recyclable, scrunch it up, if it unfolds when you release it, it is NOT recyclable. Your neighbourhood recycling centre should have a “hard core” skip and you can dispose of other glass, including broken glass in that (but, obviously, BE CAREFULhandling it). A local animal sanctury is grateful for any shredded paper I can provide - but NOT the shiny magazine type paper because it can contain harmful chemicals - they use it for bedding for small animals. The advice at my local neighbourhood recycling centre is to squash the bottles then replace the cap to cut down on the space they occupy in the skip. I didn’t know about recycling aerosol cans and caps, I thought that they may be hazardous due to the fact that, even when apparently empty they still have some pressure in them. There is, currently, no facility in my kerbside recycling arrangements for aerosols, so I’ll have to speak to the staff at my local recycling centre to find out which skip I can put them in. Good stuff Stephanie, I always enjoy reading the tips that you and yor colleagues publish.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Donatello, good to hear from you! Really great tip about the wrapping paper - in fact, I think I may add this to the article if that's ok with you! Taking shredded paper to the animal sanctuary is also a novel idea - I used to keep horses and we would often use shredded paper for bedding, so perhaps this could be an option too? Thanks a lot for your comment - some wonderful advice given as usual!

    2. Author Donatello46 on April 20, 2018 at 9:26 am

      Of course it's OK with me and shredded paper, of the right kind, can possibly be used for any animal (including horses and ponies). We used to keep pet rats and used shreddings for their bedding as well as, in the past, for guinea pigs and rabbits all of which sometimes used to eat the shreddings, hence the warning about glazed paper.

    Reply
  16. Author Sue on April 17, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Hi, we have been asked to remove plastic bottle caps as they are not recyclable, so have been taking these off and putting in normal rubbish bin.? (Pendle borough council)

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      Hi Sue, It looks like some areas have differing guidelines. If in doubt, speak to your bin men or local council who should be able to help.

    Reply
  17. Author Rachel on April 18, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Hi - I live in S Devon and we can put out shredded paper, use bin liners for our food waste, and don't have to remove plastic windows from envelopes. We can't recycle aluminium yet but I give it to my sister in Manchester because she can - & she gives me her plastic as she says she can't recycle it there! It's such a shame the whole system isn't standardised in a way that maximises recycling. Plastic milk bottle tops can be collected for charitable fund-raising (company easily found online) but I don't know yet how you get them to the recycler.

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 18, 2018 at 3:43 pm

      Hi Rachel. Isn't it interesting that each part of the country seems to have a different system - if a little confusing! It's great that you save your aluminium and do an exchange - what a commitment. The country needs more eco-friendly people like you :) Thanks a lot for your comment.

    Reply
  18. Author Susan Bowden on April 20, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    Our council sends out a booklet with collection days and recycling info. It has no rule about size, asks for lids to be recycled separately, and it all (including shredded paper) goes in the recycling bin. The only things they can't recycle are carrier bags, black bags, film, polystyrene and glass other than jars or bottles. We have a bin and a kitchen caddy for food waste. The local recycling centre takes everything else. We have 3 wheelie bins (general waste, recycling and garden) and the food caddy but the next town has 5 (!) and a paper box but no food bin - best thing is to check with your council as things can change and not all councils tell you!

    1. Author Stephanie C on April 24, 2018 at 10:15 am

      Hi Susan, It's great that your council sends information (although isn't it ironic that this is more paper!) Interesting information - thanks a lot for sharing :)

    Reply
  19. Author Stella on May 5, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Hi, I was told ages ago that it was ok to recycle shredded paper, but now after just reading this, I'm not so sure. Thanks for all your helpful tips.

    1. Author Stephanie C on May 10, 2018 at 11:50 am

      Hi Stella. Check with your local recycling who will be able to give your exacting details on this.

    Reply
  20. Author Natalye harries on May 17, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    If where you live will not take shredded paper (they do here in Wales) the PDSA, and other animal charities will take it for bedding ... our local PDSA are more than pleased to take it off your hands....

    1. Author Stephanie C on May 18, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      Hi Natalye. Thanks for pointing this out - great idea!

    Reply
  21. Author Nicholas Perry on July 19, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    5. It's important to wash my recycling 15 'All rubbish, including recycling, is washed thoroughly at a special facility, so there is no need to worry about a drop of bleach or two.' ???????

    1. Author Joanne A on July 24, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Nicholas! We recommend giving all recycling a basic clean so that you aren't contaminating it with leftover food waste. Food waste can cause recycling to be rejected.

    Reply
  22. Author Nooshin on July 26, 2018 at 2:55 am

    Can I recycle bottle of water(500mill)and it should be with it's label?

    1. Author Joanne A on July 26, 2018 at 3:43 pm

      Yes, you can. Just empty out the contents and pop into your recycling bin. The label can be left on. Hope this helped!

    Reply

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