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Can I recycle this? The most confusing items demystified

Recycling – we’re all in. But which bin?

Stylised illustration showing family recycling their rubbish.

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Doing your bit to reduce waste and help the environment is commendable. But if we’re not clued up on the rules about recycling, how much of a difference are we able to make?

We found that 54% of Brits believe that the rules of recycling are so confusing that they don’t recycle properly.

We’ve also looked at a selection of items that cause the most confusion when it comes to which bin you’re supposed to put them in.

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What items are generally recyclable?

The rules on recycling can vary between councils, so in some cases it depends on where you live.

But here are some general materials that are widely recyclable:

  • Plastic bottles eg milk bottles, soft drink bottles
  • Cardboard and paper
  • Metal tins and drinks cans
  • Glass jars, beer and wine bottles

READ MORE: Which bin? The great British recycling confusion

10 items that cause recycling confusion

  • Polystyrene
  • Black plastic packaging
  • Clear plastic packaging
  • Aluminium foil
  • Crisp packets
  • Aerosol cans
  • Pizza boxes
  • Coffee cups
  • Receipts
  • Kitchen roll

Can I recycle polystyrene?

Polystyrene – the kind that you see in takeaway food containers or in appliance packaging – is generally not recyclable.

Some councils may accept it at household waste recycling centres – check with your local council if this is the case.

Sorting waste at a recycling centre

Can I recycle black plastic packaging (like you see in ready meals)?

Technically, black plastic material is recyclable. However, the technology that recycling centres use to sort recycling aren’t good at spotting black pigments. This means it usually gets missed and ends up in landfill, so councils can’t recycle it.

Different councils may have their own system about dealing with black plastic. If in doubt, try and use products with clear or coloured plastics where possible. 

Can I recycle clear plastic packaging (like you see on raw meat packaging)?

These types of plastic are recyclable. Make sure you rinse out the packets before putting them in the recycling bag – any leftover food or raw meat risks contaminating the whole bag.

Be careful not to recycle the plastic film that often comes with this type of packaging. This needs to be removed and put in the general waste bin.

Can I recycle aluminium foil?

Aluminium is widely recycled, so it’s fine to put in with the recycling. The same applies to foil takeaway containers.

However, make sure the foil is clean – give it a rinse to remove any food residue. Soiled foil risks contaminating other recycling. If the food is well-embedded into the foil, it’s best to put it in with general waste.

Can I recycle crisp packets?

Crisp packets aren't recyclable. However, Walkers has committed to making all of its crisp packaging bio-degradable by 2025.

In the meantime, you can either put your crisp packets in with your general waste, or you can take them to a dedicated recycling drop-off point. 

Walkers runs a crisp packet recycling scheme with hundreds of drop-off points across the country, and it’ll accept crisp packets from any brand.

To find your nearest drop-off point, visit Walkers.

Can I recycle aerosol cans?

Aerosols are made from steel or aluminium, both of which are widely recycled.

Before putting the can in the recycling bag, make sure it’s completely empty. But don’t try to crush or pierce the can as you run the risk of it exploding.

If you’re able to take the top off easily, please do as this will help it get recycled properly.

Greasy pizza making stains in the box

Can I recycle pizza boxes?

Pizza boxes are made from carboard and so are recyclable.

Even if they’re slightly stained with grease, you should be okay to recycle them.

Use your judgement, though. If you’ve had a particularly greasy pizza and the box looks like it’s been varnished, don’t recycle it.

Instead, cut the lid off the box, recycle that, and throw the base in with the general waste.

Can I recycle coffee cups?

In general, coffee cups aren’t recyclable. This is because the cup contains a small amount of plastic in the inner lining to make it insulated and leakproof. 

An easy way to reduce your waste from takeaway coffee cups is to buy a reusable coffee cup. Not only will you reduce your waste, but many coffee shops offer discounts for using reusable cups.

To further reduce your plastic use, you can get collapsible coffee cups that are 100% silicone.

Check prices for collapsible coffee cups on Amazon

Can I recycle receipts?

Paper receipts can be recycled. But receipts that are printed on thermal paper are coated in plastic and so can’t be recycled.

The problem is, it’s difficult to tell which is which, meaning you could accidentally contaminate your recycling with non-recyclable materials. So unless you're certain, err on the side of caution and put them in with your general waste.

Even better, opt to go paperless wherever you can. Many shops now ask you if you want a receipt, so unless you think you might need to return something, you can politely refuse.

Can I recycle kitchen roll?

Used sheets of kitchen roll aren't recyclable. This is because kitchen roll is often used to clean up spills and so would be contaminated. Best put those in with your general waste. The same goes for toilet roll paper.

The cardboard tubes that you get when you finish a roll are fine to recycle, though.

How do I know the rules for my local area?

If you want specifics on exactly which bin you should put your rubbish in, check out this recycling locator tool from Recycle Now.

Share your tips

How do you stay on top of your recycling? Share your tips in the comments!