In order to recycle more, we need to understand the practicalities of recycling. Recycling can often be confusing, and we have therefore come up with a basic recycling guide for you to get to know the most common recycling signs, their meaning, and resources so that you can get to know what, how, and where to recycle in your local area.
GETTING TO KNOW THE RECYCLING SIGNS
Starting with the resin identification code, these identify the type of plastic resin used to make a plastic item. Most plastics are in theory capable of being recycled but due to constraints both due to infrastructure and feasibility, most are not recycled in practice.
- PET: Water bottles, soft and fizzy drink bottles, pots, tubs, oven-ready trays - Easy to recycle
- HDPE: Milk bottles, freezer bags, ice cream containers, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, toys - Easy to recycle
- PVC: Cosmetic containers, cling film, drainage pipes, medical devices, stationery, automotive interiors - Difficult to recycle
- LDPE: Squeeze bottles, toys, carrier bags, high-frequency insulation, heavy-duty sacks - Difficult to recycle
- PP: Buckets, crates, toys, medical components, bottle caps - Manageable to recycle
- PS: Toys and novelties, rigid packaging, refrigerator trays, and boxes - Difficult to recycle
- All other types of plastic that do not fit into the other 6 categories. This includes plastics like Tritan, but also biodegradable materials - Very difficult to recycle
So in order to both encourage producers to use easier recycled plastic and making sure that you can recycle an item at the end of its life, find the recycling code on the product, and choose products made with the most recyclable plastic.
GETTING TO KNOW THE OTHER LABELS
There are several symbols found on a variety of packaging and explain a range of information: whether or not an item can be recycled, how to dispose of the item, or if it's made of recycled material. Here are some of the most common once.
These labels indicate how recyclable an item is and it is common to find several of these labels on a product for how to dispose of the different parts of the packaging.
The Green Dot
The Green Dot does not necessarily mean that the packaging is recyclable, will be recycled, or has been recycled. It is a symbol used on packaging in some European countries and signifies that the producer has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe.
This indicates that an object is capable of being recycled, not that the object has been recycled or will be accepted in all recycling collection systems.
This symbol asks you not to litter. It doesn't relate to recycling but is a reminder to be a good citizen, disposing of the item in the most appropriate manner.
The symbol for products certified to be industrially composted. It indicates that this material is capable of being composted with your garden waste through your local authority - IF they have facilities for this
Please note that this material needs a special environment to compost and you will therefore not be able to compost it in your home compost. Check with your local guidelines if this compostable material is accepted at the recycling facility.
In addition to the seedling symbol for industrial composting, you may see this one which means that it is suitable to be home composted.
IT CAN BE CONFUSING
We know that even with the understanding of what labels are on the packaging, recycling practices can still be very confusing. What if you’re not sure or what about the products that don’t have any labels (yes there are many that don’t!). It is important to not dispose of non-recyclable material together with recycled material because contamination can in some cases make the recyclable material un-recyclable.
Here are a few things that are not recyclable. We would suggest that you check your local recycling guidelines for how to handle these items before discarding them in your general waste bin.
- Plastic bags (unless they are compostable)
- Plastic cling film
- Plastic tubes (toothpaste, hair gel, etc.)
- Bubble wrap
- Coat hangers
- Crisp bags
- Candy & food wrappers
- Plastic flowerpots (repurpose these!)
- Disposable wet wipes
- Take-away coffee cups (plastic coating liner makes them extremely hard to recycle - however coffee cup lid can be recycled)
- Shredded paper
- Plastic straws and utensils
- Plastic shower curtains
KEY QUESTIONS YOU MAY ASK
- Do I need to remove the lid off the bottle for recycling? Answer: NO, and really don’t remove the cap because it is more likely to be sorted out of recycling because it is too small.
- Do I need to remove labels from plastic packaging before recycling? NO, there is no need because the cleaning and shredding process takes care of that.
- Do I need to clean packaging before recycling? YES, especially if you are combining it with paper. This is because grease and fluids can contaminate paper and cardboard, making them non-recyclable. Wash out any food or liquid residue and leave to dry if possible before recycling.
- If I don’t know if I can recycle an item, should I put it in the recycling or general waste bin? TOUGH ONE, because we want to make sure that we capture as much plastic as possible for recycling, whilst we don’t want to contaminate it with non-recyclables and slow the recycling process down. However, as a general rule that will ensure a good mix of both ways of thinking: if it is a hard-plastic item - add it to the recycling bin, and if it is a soft-plastic item - add it to the general waste bin.
IT COMES DOWN TO YOUR LOCAL RECYCLING GUIDELINES
Recycling ads an additional challenge to the mix because almost all recycling guidelines differ depending on which country, county, and council you live in. Information should however be easily accessible if you go to your local council website or if there are national initiatives that can help you learn more. Here are a few resources for you to learn how to recycle where you live.
National recycling center website Recycle Now
Search for your local council recycling guidelines
For national and local guidelines Sopor.nu
Written by the Nature Unite team