Why you might be recycling all wrong — and how to do it like a pro

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It’s official: London is rubbish. We may be one of the best cities for culture, restaurants and natural wine bars, but it turns out that the capital is the worst in the country for recycling. Though you’re not alone if you think that sorting through your plastic, cardboard and glass is a confusing job: research has found that 80 per cent of UK households are unclear on how to recycle effectively.

Which plastics should you be separating? Can you recycle coloured glass with clear? Do you need to wash the remnants of last night’s korma out of the takeaway container before chucking it? There are plenty of things to consider.

We spoke to director of Duclo Recycling, Zoe Brimelow, to find out how it should be done. “Mixing of waste can contaminate materials, reducing the volumes of what can actually be recycled,” she says. “Improved segregation at the point of waste disposal will increase the opportunity to recycle and reuse more materials.” So in short, sorting your rubbish properly when you first put it out is key to improving the recycling process once it goes beyond your front garden.

Brimelow goes on to explain that you can’t just throw any old thing out with your recycling waste. “We handle thousands of tonnes of business waste from across the UK, and find lots of random objects that have been thrown out in recycle bins,” she says. “We’ve had shoes, car batteries and even underwear, mixed in with plastics.”

The other way that people tend to go wrong, according to Brimelow, is by trying too hard. “Good intentions – ‘wishcycling’ – contributes to the problem of non-recyclable material being mixed in with recycling,” she says. “People are keen to do their bit, but end up throwing things in their recycling bins more out of hope and wishing that waste can be recycled, rather than checking what can and can’t be recycled.”

Thankfully, these are all changes you can start making without too much effort. Sort your rubbish more carefully by using separate bins when you’re throwing things away, don’t put crazy items in with your plastics, and check if what you’re sending off to be recycled is actually suitable.

Top tips for how to recycle like a pro (from a pro)

Here are Brimelow's four recycling commandments

Check your local council’s website

In many instances, they will have handy guides about what goes in each coloured bin and what can’t be recycled.

Avoid putting plastic films and bags in your recycle bin

These aren’t widely recycled via kerbside collections. Instead, check local supermarkets, as these sometimes have specialist collections for ‘flexibles’ such as plastic packaging films. When buying online, it’s also worth checking whether retailers have collection schemes in place for flexibles.

Check plastic codes and symbols

You don’t have to be an expert here, but a quick search online will help you to understand what the different resin codes stand for. For example, PET is used for drinks bottles and some food packaging, and can be widely recycled. LDPE should be recycled at specialist points – not in your recycle bin at home

Double check on-pack labels

Not all packaging will have a recycling label on it, but more and more feature clearer messages about ‘recycle’ and ‘don’t recycle’. There’s also more and more labelling that tells you when to ‘recycle with lid on’ or ‘rinse and recycle’