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10 Recycling tips that you probably didn’t know about

For many, being eco-friendly begins with the recycling symbol and ends at the recycling bin. The simple act of throwing something away into a large box marked with a recycling sign is enough to make some of us feel like we’ve done our part.  However, we need to think about the long term picture and the end journey of the products we are recycling or else we could just do more damage.

recycling green triangle symbol

According to The National Geographic. “Recycling is a complicated system dictated by market demand, price determinations, local regulations, the success of which is contingent upon everyone, from the product-designer, to the trash-thrower, to the waste collector, to the recycling factory worker. We consumers play a much more critical role than we might imagine-- depending on how we use our products and in what shape we throw them away, determines their value and quality post-use.”

It’s always important to think where your products have come from and where they’ll end up when it comes to both buying and recycling habits so I’ve detailed 10 really easy to remember top recycling tips that will help you on your journey to living more eco-friendly. 

1) I have mentioned this before in a previous blog post but waste that is heavily marked with grease or food cannot be recycled and can even contaminate other clean waste around it.  Wash off what you can but if it is too badly marked then just put it in your general waste bin instead.

2) Ok so most people know that paper and plastic need to be recycled separately.  But when it comes to the paper envelopes with plastic windows are you taking the plastic window out and recycling it separately to the envelope?

3) Not all plastic can be recycled.  Thermoplastics like acrylics, nylon and polyethylene (polythene) can be recycled as when you heat them up they get soft, so they can be shaped into any form you like, which also makes them easy to recycle. Milk containers can be melted and reformed into furniture, plastic water bottles become fleece jackets, and hard bottle tops can get a new lease of life as storage boxes.

recycle plsatic bottles

Thermosetting plastics, like Bakelite or polyurethane, are different because they harden as you heat them. Once they have set, you can’t melt them. This makes thermosetting plastics almost impossible to recycle.

4) Have a look at the number inside of the green recycling triangle on the material.  The general rule of thumb is that the lower the number, the more likely it is that it CAN be recycled.

5) If you see a 7 in the centre of a three-arrowed recycling triangle then you have no way of knowing for certain whether its recyclable or non-recyclable (even plastics industry people and recyclers can’t tell sometimes).  7 is the “other” put-everything-else-that-is-not-#1-6 category. It includes both non-recyclable and “biodegradable” plastics.

6) Thin plastics such as cling film, plastic wrapping & plastic shopping bags can generally not be recycled as normal as they clog up the recycling machine.  They generally need a different type of machine, which not all councils have due to its expense.  That’s why most carrier bags end up in landfill taking thousands of years to degrade.

7) Disposable coffee cups are not recyclable in your general household collection. They tend to be made from 2 materials, paper on the outside with a think plastic lining inside to stop the drink from seeping through.  Because there are two different materials, the cups cannot be recycled unless the materials are separated, which is impossible to do by hand and requires a special machine.  It’s the same with toothpaste tubes and crisp packets.

disposable coffee cups are not recyclable

8) However, some brands, like Walkers, do offer a scheme for recycling through Terracycle, a firm that moulds items into new products, such as park benches.  They are an innovative recycling company that has become a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle materials.  People can recycle packaging at more than 2,000 locations across the UK. 

9) Recycling plastic downgrades its quality every time meaning that eventually it will not be able to be reused.  If you can, you’re best off opting for a plastic-free option

10) Glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely without losing its quality.

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