Plastics: frequently asked questions
What can I recycle?
What types of plastic can be recycled?
This depends on where you live, see our guide for each district council for more information and advice.
How can I recycle plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays?
Why cant I recycle black plastics?
Black plastic is difficult to recycle because of the type of dye used in the manufacturing process to turn the plastic black.
The recycling process uses optical sorting lazers to organise the plastic into the different polymer types before washing, shredding and melting it down. The optical lazers cannot detect the black plastic because of its colour, meaning it is automatically removed and disposed of as contamination.
However, there are beginnings of new technologies being brought forward using new special dyes which can be detected by lasers as well as optical lazers being upgraded to detect black plastic.
This is becoming more and more widespread, so the best thing to do is to check with your local authority to be sure what they are asking you to do with black plastic.
But if in doubt, leave it out of your recycling to reduce contamination.
Can I recycle plastic film and carrier bags?
Plastic bags and wrappings can be taken to film plastic recycling points in most major supermarket stores including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s. There are also smaller recycling points in local co-ops all across the UK! Check if your local store recycles plastic bags.
All items should be clean and free of food residue with sticky labels removed as this can contaminate the recycling process.
Please remember that compostable and biodegradable bags are not designed to be recycled and will cause contamination issues in the recycling plants. These can be chopped up into smaller pieces and added to your compost bin at home or used to line your food waste recycling caddy!
Why can supermarkets collect soft plastics but the council cant?
Although it is possible to recycle an item, if there is no market for the recycled product it is not realistic to recycle it. Most of the supermarkets that are collecting these items have the need for the recycled product in their stores so have found a use for the end product. Soft plastics are also extremely difficult to collect at kerbside and cause problems at waste sorting facilities where they get tangled in the machines so as of right now it is impractical for soft plastics to be collected with the rest of your recycling.
What do I do with compostable / biodegradable plastic packaging?
Just because a plastic is made from bio-based sources, does not automatically mean it can be composted at home in your garden or put into the food waste or garden waste collection systems. Read on to find out what to do with your compostable packaging.
Home compostable packaging will be clearly labelled with the words "ok to home compost" write somewhere on them. These items can be chopped up small and added to your home compost bin as 'browns'. See more about how to home compost here.
Compostable plastics should not go in with your dry recycling as they cannot be recycled in the same way as ordinary plastic. If you don't have a home compost bin, please put the packaging in your non-recyclable bin.
Biodegradable packaging will be clearly labelled as "plant based plastic" or "biodegradable" or even sometimes, "compostable" (not home compostable - see above) and it should not go in with your dry recycling as it is not made from the same materials as ordinary plastic and will cause issues in the recycling process.
If possible, return your biodegradable packaging back to the business you purchased it from as they may have a waste collection for it. Alternatively, it will need to go in your non-recyclable bin.
Presenting my waste for recycling
Should I be washing and squashing my plastics?
Yes, please wash and squash your plastics (where possible) as it saves space in your recycling bin and removes contaminants from the recycling process.
If items are put into the recycling system with food still inside, they cannot be read by the sorting machinery and will be disposed of as contamination and not be recycled. If there is a large quantity of contamination in a recycling load, the recycling plant is able to refuse loads, meaning they will not be recycled at all.
Please make sure you are rinsing out your recycling before putting it out for collection.
Should I leave on or remove lids?
Should I leave on or remove trigger sprays?
What happens to the plastic?
What happens to the plastics once it is collected?
How is plastic recycled?
Plastics are machine sorted by type before being shredded, washed, melted, and pelletised to be made into new plastic products.
The recycling of plastic is a two-stage process:
- Sorting is mainly done automatically by machines with optical sorting lazers, this is due to the volume of items we send for recycling. There is manual quality check system in place to try and ensure all contaminants (e.g. plastic bags and other recycling materials) have been removed.
- Once sorted into type and cleaned, the plastic is shredded into flakes or melted to form pellets (as these are easy and cost effective to transport) before being used to make new plastic products. The recycled plastic could also be melted and spun to create polyester fibers that can be made into clothing and swimwear.