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9 Ways to Become a Recycling Pro

Sometimes recycling can feel impossible to get right, with a seemingly never-ending list of plastics, papers and metals that can and can’t be recycled. Here's a handy guide to help your recycling: 

1. Shampoo Bottles and Plastic Food Containers 

A lot of recycling in the UK is sorted by hand, so it's much appreciated if shampoo and food containers are clean, but they don't need to be sparkling! You also don't need to remove labels, because friction machines are used to remove them.

2. Envelopes

Did you know that all paper envelopes can be recycled, including the ones with plastic windows? 

Envelopes are pulped during the recycling process, and the paper sinks to the bottom whilst the plastic windows float.These are then scraped off and taken to a separate recycling unit. 

3. Coffee Cups

Unfortunately the vast majority of single use coffee cups can't be recycled, as they're made with a laminated plastic coating (making them waterproof) that is very hard to remove. In the UK alone only 1 in 400 disposable coffee cups are actually recycled.  

Even compostable cups are problematic, because only a very few recycling centres can deal with them, so they have to be transported to them by road, increasing the carbon footprint. 

Until truly recyclable coffee cups are available, take your own cup, drink in or you can send empty cups to James Cropper PLC, who use an innovative process to turn coffee cups into paper bags. 

4. Hand Soap Pump Dispensers

Soap pump dispensers can't be recycled at the moment. They are made of black plastic, which is not widely recycled, and they have a metal spring in them (to make the pump action work), and mixed materials can't be recycled either.

On the flipside, cleaning bottles with a dispenser/spray can often be recycled as they don’t have the same metal spring that makes soap pumps impossible to recycle. Check the label to find out which elements of your soap and cleaning bottles can be recycled.

Alternatively, head down to your local zero waste store to refill the bottles you already have with bulk cleaning products and hand soap. In Hackney the Top Up Truck's zero waste store might even come to you on their electric cart! 

 5. Tin Foil

Many local councils say that tin foil isn’t recyclable, but in actual fact it's only tiny balls of tin foil that can't be recycled, because they get stuck in the sorting machines. 

If tin foil is cleaned and collected over time you can create a large ball that can then be recycled. This is also true for metal tea-light cases which can be recycled with your tin foil, as long as all the wax is removed first. You can use boiling water to remove the remnants of wax.

6. Post-it Notes

Post-it notes can't be recycled in conventional recycling because of the glue strip on the top. Unfortunately, if Post-it notes are placed in recycling the whole batch has to be sent to landfill, as they are hard to hand-sort on a conveyor belt. To recycle your Post-it notes simply cut the off the glue strips at the top and discard them in your household rubbish. 

7. Greasy Takeaway Boxes

The grease left on cardboard takeaway boxes interferes with the pulping phase of the recycling process. In order to recycle your pizza box, cut around the greasy bits and discard them with household rubbish, then recycle the rest of the box. 

8. Soft Plastic

At present the soft plastic that bread, fruit and vegetables are often packed in in supermarkets is not widely recycled. The only place these can go is to landfill, but there is good news: The supermarket group Co-op has begun to provide soft plastic recycling bins outside their stores.

9. Aluminium Tubes

Probably one of the least known items that can be recycled is the humble tomato puree tube. These are usually made of 100% metal, so they can be placed in your recycling with the plastic lid removed. There's no need to try to clean them!


Recycling conserves natural resources, protects ecosystems and wildlife and reduces the demand for raw materials. Getting your recycling right can feel like a bit of a minefield, but it's worth making the effort to do it correctly.


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