Recycling is a great way to do your bit for the environment and to protect the Earth’s precious resources.
However, a new study has found that our desire to be sustainable does more harm than good, as 17 percent of items sent for recycling have to be thrown away.
According to waste company Biffa, this is because Britons are guilty of ‘wish-cycling’ – assuming that contaminated items are recycled if they are put in the bin.
Toothpaste tubes, disposable coffee cups, juice cartons and greasy pizza boxes are some of the most common items that are recycled incorrectly.
While non-recyclable materials can be removed during the separation process, contamination from food or liquids can mean that potential recycling is sometimes sent to landfill.
David Heaton, business director at Biffa, said: ‘Contamination happens when items are thrown in the wrong bins or have not been rinsed before being recycled.
“It’s important for people to understand what goes in the bin and how to pre-cycle them (for example, to rinse a bin or bin if there’s food on it), so we can recycle as much material as possible.
“If the alarming trajectory we see continues, contamination rates could reach nearly a quarter of all recycling by 2030 without the intervention of the law.
“It means that recyclable resources are lost and cannot be reused.”
Waste company Biffa says Brits are ‘wish-cycling’ – assuming contaminated items will be recycled if put in the bin
A recent survey by WRAP, a waste reduction charity, found that more than four in five people recycle items they shouldn’t (stock image)
GENERAL ‘WISH-CYCLED’ ITEMS TO GO IN THE GENERAL WASTE
- Juice and soup cartons – These contain a difficult to separate mix of plastic and cardboard.
- Toothpaste tubes – They are made of hard-to-recycle plastic.
- Takeaway coffee cups – These usually have a plastic wrap.
- Greasy pizza boxes.
- Used kitchen roll or tissues.
- Crispy packets and salad bags.
- Dirty collection containers.
It’s easy to think that when throwing away old packaging, the more that goes into recycling, the better.
However, contamination from leftovers or other non-recyclable materials can result in recyclable items placed in the appropriate waste bins ending up in landfills.
Even if the unclean item can be removed before this opportunity, the contamination makes it less recyclable or recoverable.
Biffa says it always recycles any contaminants that can be recycled, but it’s not always feasible.
Landfill is a last resort and more often non-recyclable materials are sent to Energy From Waste facilities.
A recent survey by waste reduction charity WRAP found that more than four in five people recycle items they shouldn’t.
Biffa experts analyzed the amounts of non-targeted and non-recyclable materials entering UK material recycling facilities between 2016 and 2020.
In 2016, the average contamination rate from waste recycling was found to be 13.4 percent, rising in four years to 17 percent by the end of 2020.
This shows that, while people are becoming more environmentally conscious, desire cycling is increasing in both households and businesses in England and Wales.
The survey also found that most of these contaminants were non-recyclable materials, with the items either not being recyclable or being overly contaminated with other materials.
These make up 10.4 percent of contaminants, while 6.5 percent of recyclable items placed in the wrong bin are responsible.
Toothpaste tubes, disposable coffee cups, juice cartons and greasy pizza boxes are some of the most common items that are recycled incorrectly. Biffa suggests cutting off the tops of old pizza boxes and recycling only that part to avoid contamination from the grease (stock image)
Biffa experts analyzed the amounts of non-targeted and non-recyclable materials entering UK material recycling facilities between 2016 and 2020. It found that in 2016, the average contamination rate from recycling waste was 13.4 percent, an increase in four years. up to 17 percent by the end of 2020 (stock image)
The experts at Biffa say that one of the best ways to avoid contamination from recycling is to rinse off recyclable waste before putting it in the bin.
They suggest cutting off the tops of old pizza boxes and recycling only that part to avoid contamination from the grease.
Checking the on-packaging recycling label, or OPRL, to make sure it can actually be recycled is also a step that many of us are guilty of skipping.
When it comes to plastics, Biffa also recommends checking the resin code, the number inside the plastic triangle, to know if it should be thrown in the trash.
In general, resin codes 1, 2, 4 and 5 are recyclable while 3, 6 and 7 are not.
Larger items, such as electronics, furniture and batteries, can also be recycled, but often cannot go into household recycling bins because they must be separated by a specialist.
While non-recyclable materials can be sorted out in the separation process, contamination from food or liquids can mean potential recycling is sent to landfill (stock image)
These should be taken to recycling centers or sustainable waste management companies for proper disposal and prevention of contamination.
“It is vital as a nation that we get better at effective ‘pre-cycling’ – sorting waste properly before collection – to reduce contamination levels,” added Mr Heaton.
Campaigners have argued that packaging labels and different standards in municipalities create confusion about what can and cannot be recycled.
Government legislation is coming that will introduce consistent curbside collections and also make manufacturers responsible for the costs of managing packaging waste.
However, this has been repeatedly postponed and will not arrive until 2024.
While more education about recycling labels and bins would help, Mr Heaton said that ‘without these changes to the legislation, recycling and contamination rates are unlikely to improve’.
Roger Wright, Waste Strategy & Packaging Manager at Biffa, told MailOnline: We have become more environmentally conscious in recent years, and Brits are more eager than ever to recycle as much as possible.
“There are good intentions behind wish-cycling – the hope that the waste will be recycled – but in reality, deliberately throwing contaminants in a trash can does more harm than good.
“We do everything we can to sort the waste properly, but ask people to familiarize themselves with what can and cannot be recycled using the recycling labels on the packaging.
‘If you’re not entirely sure whether your waste pollutes recycling, you should dispose of it with regular waste.’
How many recycling symbols could you identify?
1. The ‘tidy man’ – Reminder to properly dispose of waste in a bin.
2. Mobius Loop – This means that products can be recycled, but that does not mean that they have been recycled before.
3. Check locally – This item is recycled by 20-75 per cent of local authorities in the UK so please check with your local council.
4. Compostable – Place this item with your garden waste bin.
5. Widely Recycled – This item is recycled by more than 75 percent of local authorities. There may be conditions for recycling it, such as rinsing the packaging or removing the cover or lid.
6. Plastics – This tells you what kind of plastic a product is made of so you understand how to recycle it. eg PET – short for polyethylene terephthalate. This is widely recycled.
7. Forest Stewardship Council – This product is made of wood and comes from a responsibly managed forest.
8. Financial Contribution – Manufacturers have made a financial contribution to the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe.
9. Aluminum – This product is made from recyclable aluminum – this can be a can, a deodorant can or foil.