5 mistakes you're probably making with your plastic recycling

After reducing your plastic use, the next best thing is to recycle. But even the most well-meaning of recyclers can make mistakes. Check out our list of common recycling errors to avoid and feel super smug about being a recycling ninja.

Mistake number 1: Taking the lid off plastic bottles

In actual fact, you should put the cap back on your plastic bottle (after rinsing it out: see mistake number 2) when sticking it in the recycling. In the past we were told to remove lids as they’re made from a different kind of plastic to the rest of the bottle, but recycling plants have got a whole lot more sophisticated in recent years and machines can now remove the lids by themselves. If you don’t put the lid back on, it could get missed and might not get recycled.

Mistake number 2: Putting dirty items in the recycling

Sure, your plastic gets cleaned at the recycling centre, but by then it’s already spent a week sitting in your recycling bin. And if it’s dirty and covered in food, it could contaminate other things like paper and card. So make sure the plastic you put out for recycling is clean and not covered in the remains of last night’s dinner.

Mistake number 3: Putting black plastic food trays in the recycling

Sadly, black plastic food trays aren’t widely recycled. You might think it was because of the pigment not being recyclable or something like that, but it’s actually a much simpler reason: the optical sorters at recycling centres often can’t detect black plastic items. The technology may well improve in future, but for now please try to avoid buying black plastic trays wherever possible!

Mistake number  4: Throwing away all plastic films

Quite a lot of films aren’t suitable for recycling, but that’s not always the case! Before just assuming a film isn’t recyclable and chucking it away, make sure to check the recycling labels on the back. There should be a small symbol indicating whether you can or can’t recycle that particular plastic film. Some types can go in your recycling bin at home and some can go in your supermarket’s carrier bag recycling point, so it’s always worth making sure.

Mistake number 5: Putting bioplastics in the recycling

So-called bioplastics are made from renewable sources like cellulose (from trees), starch (from potatoes) and vegetable oil (from - you’ve guessed it - vegetables!). These bioplastics shouldn’t go in your recycling as they can get muddled with petroleum-based plastics and affect the quality of the recycled output. Instead, you can put them on your compost heap if you’re lucky enough to have one, or stick them in your garden or food waste bin (please check whether your local council accepts bioplastics as this varies from region to region).

So there you have it! Five common mistakes that you can put right in a jiffy to help improve the quality and quantity of recycled products.

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