Your Recycling Questions Answered
We asked our Facebook fans to tell us what they’ve always wanted to know about recycling and we were inundated with questions!
Here’s our top 12 answered by Recycle Now, the national recycling campaign for England.
- Why is recycling not the same UK-wide?
- What plastics can I recycle?
- What should you add to compost?
- Lids on or off?
- Are all bio-based plastics biodegradable?
- Does everything have to be perfectly clean before it is recycled?
- Does it matter if I don't separate different coloured glass?
- What everyday items are made out of recycled materials?
- What happens to the things we recycle?
- How is recycling separated if it all goes in one bin?
- How many times can you recycle an item before it cannot be recycled again?
- What is the current ratio of landfill to recycled materials in the UK?
Q. Why don't all refuse collectors collect the same recyclable items throughout the Country? I have to go to collection points to recycle my plastic and cardboard. My neighbouring county get theirs collected from their homes.
Local authorities (councils) set up appropriate collections for their circumstances based on their budget, resources, the types of housing in their borough, the contracts they have with their reprocessors, the types of vehicles they’re able to use, their own storage capacity for the materials they collect, the views of their local counsellors (which is often based on political considerations), council priorities, proximity to treatment plants etc.
Some authorities have lots of space to collect many different items at their own depot, so are able to offer a collection of more items. Some are under contract to external operators, which may or may not be able to offer a broad range of materials to collect and recycle.
It is worth contacting your local authority to enquire why they are not collecting certain materials.
You can check what you can recycle near you using our recycling postcode locator
Q. I never understand what plastic can and can't go in recycling bin, such as can grape plastic basket go in and what about plastic egg boxes? Is there a symbol I should be looking for?
It’s best to check what plastics are collected in your area. Putting your postcode into our recycling locator will show you what’s recycled near you - recyclenow.com or check with your local council.
Most councils collect all types of plastic bottles – this includes shampoo bottles, bleach bottles, washing up liquid, milk, drinks etc.
For other plastic packaging, local authorities vary as to whether they collect these.
If they do, it tends to be pots, tubs and trays such as plastic fruit baskets and yoghurt pots – but not the plastic bags that some fruit comes in.
You can find out more about the symbols used on packaging here
Q. My hubby is about to make his own compost bin. What should he be putting in to help it become compost quicker?
He should ensure that the compost bin sits on earth/grass. That way worms can easily access the waste to start the process of breaking down the material.
Ensure it has a good mix of materials, greens such as grass and veg peelings, and dry materials, browns.
Turning can help to speed up the process, as can sitting the compost bin in a sunny spot. He should produce some lovely compost after about 9-12 months.
You can find more information here
Q. Lids on or off?
You should check this locally, as each council has different contracts in place with the reprocessors who take the materials collected.
Some are happy to process lids, some not – so check using our recycling postcode locator
Q. Are all bio-based plastics biodegradable?
In theory, all bio-plastics are biodegradable in that they will biodegrade over time. But they are not all compostable. To be compostable, they need to biodegrade within a certain period.
You can find out more about the symbols used on packaging, including the ‘seedling’ logo for bioplastics here
Q. Does everything have to be perfectly clean e.g. yoghurt pots, or could they contaminate the rest of the recycle items?
Generally as long as items are reasonably clean (a quick rinse in your washing up water once the plates are washed) then that’s fine.
You just want to make sure that most of the food residue is removed. However you should check locally as each council will have their own approach.
Q. Does it really matter if I don't separate the different coloured glass... I mean obviously I always do...just asking for a friend
It depends on your local authority collection. Some collect separated and so can achieve a higher rate of income for that colour stream – it helps keep the quality higher.
Other local authorities collect the glass mixed, which can then be sorted at an optical sorting facility.
The best thing to do is to check locally with your council – if they ask for it separated, please do keep the colours separate.
Q. Are there any everyday items made out of recycling materials that would surprise us to know ?
Cars – use recycled aluminium on the body and rags made from recycling old textiles as stuffing for cars
Toilet roll! And kitchen roll
Most glass and metal – as they can be recycled again and again (probably forever!).
Fleeces and football shirts – these can be made from recycled plastic, and some brands already have ranges made entirely of recycled materials.
Some park benches are made out of recycled plastic.
Q. What happens to the things that we recycle, do they recycle all of it or does some of it end up in land fill anyway. I love recycling but wonder where it goes.
Everything that is recyclable, is recycled. Glass can be recycled over and over again, although in England, some is crushed up and used as road aggregate.
Paper is pulped and used by the newsprint industry or made into other paper products such as writing paper, toilet roll and books.
Cardboard is made into products such as tubes for toilet roll inserts. Tins and cans are separated into steel and aluminium and used to make more steel and aluminium products such as food drinks and cans or used in car manufacturing, amongst other things.
Textiles are graded and either reused or recycled into industrial rags and used to stuff car seats.
Garden waste and food waste is composted and used as landfill cover or soil improver - and it may also generate energy.
To find out more have a look at our animations which show how different materials are recycled
Q. I've always wanted to know how they separate things when they take our recycling bin that has glass, metal tins and plastic in one bin. Do they have a special machine, if so how does it work? Or do they have people separating the things by hand, and how do they so this quickly and safely without injury.
Mixed recycling is sent to a materials recovery facility (MRF).
A typical MRF uses a mixture of hand and mechanical sorting to separate all the different materials, using all sorts of different technology to separate out metals, plastic, etc.
The material is carried around the MRF on a series of conveyor belts as it goes through the various processes.
Have a look at this animation which explains it all quite well:
Q. How many times can you recycle an item before it cannot be recycled again?
Each material is different. Paper fibres start to break down, so can only be recycled a limited number of times.
Glass and metal however can be recycled over and over again.
Q. What is the current ratio of landfill to recycled materials in the UK?
The amount of materials sent to landfill in the UK is decreasing. DEFRA collect data on waste and recycling, the latest figures show that in 2013 nearly 18 million tonnes was sent to landfill, whilst almost 11.5 million was recycled.
For Londoners looking local recycling information, please use the postcode locator here (recycleforlondon.com)
All images courtesy of WRAP