What happens to my recycling?

What happens to my recycling?

Ever put your recycling out on bin day and wondered what happens next? We’ve summarised exactly what happens, some of the shocking truths about how much material gets recycled and what you can do to help the UK improve. 

At EcoVibe, we believe that if everyone makes a small change, we can collectively have a big impact, which is why it’s so important that we educate ourselves about recycling. 

Doesn’t all my recycling get recycled?

Nope! Did you know that only 45.7% of our household recycling actually gets recycled in the UK? There are a load of reasons for this including poorly sorted recycling, contaminated recycling or simply that it isn’t easy to recycle those particular goods. 

Despite pushback in recent years from China, Malaysia, and Turkey, a lot of the UK’s waste gets sent overseas. When it goes overseas, there is no guarantee that this recycling will be processed, and it might end up being burnt or placed in landfills.  

The argument for this export is that these raw materials are of greater benefit to the manufacturers overseas, however, there aren’t the same health and safety procedures, and the carbon footprint of transporting this waste is mammoth. 

Let’s start at the beginning shall we? 

Where you live in the UK will mean that your at home recycling and curbside collections vary greatly. You may have separate bins for plastics, paper, and glass, or have one large bin for everything. Where you live will also dictate if you’re able to dispose of food and garden waste for free. 

However your waste is sorted, once it is collected by your bin men it makes a journey to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and is sorted. 

At the MRF your recycling is sorted (by hand or machine) and then sent to manufacturers to make new products with. 

Certain items that are composites of multiple materials (like coffee cups, gravy granule packs, pill blister packets etc) are all particularly problematic at this stage. They overwhelm the MRF processes, which may not be able to peel apart each layer, and can end up being thrown into landfills. 

Luckily, there is another way. Schemes like Terracycle specialise in collecting this specialised waste and alert you to where you can dispose of it. This of course means you’ll need to be especially savvy!

Are some things easier to recycle than others? 

Absolutely! Around 79% of paper and cardboard waste is recycled. Plastic on the other hand, is the hardest material to recycle. Did you know how many types of plastic there are in existence? 

If you thought 40,000, you guessed right! And this is where the problem lies. Even if you reduce these types of plastic down to the seven key types (one being “miscellaneous”) that still means there is a different process to recycle each, and some are a lot easier than others. 

Other countries are a lot better than we are at dealing with plastic. In Germany, there has been a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles since 2003 across retailers like supermarkets and in Japan, the recycling system separates down items to multiple different types of material. 

What can I do to improve the UK’s recycling? 

Make sure you clean your containers prior to putting them in the recycling, and if possible, spend time separating out the materials from something that is a composite (e.g. paper & metal).

You actually don’t need to make them spotless but get them as clean as you can. 

When you’re putting your recycling out, follow the process of your local council and ensure you’re dealing with waste in the right way. If something isn’t recyclable in your area look at schemes like Terracycle that are active in your area. You may find that a local farm or allotment will take your kitchen scraps gratefully so that they can turn them into compost. 

If you’re not happy with the recycling measures in your area you could even decide to join a campaign group, write to your local MP, or even become a councillor. These are all great ways of creating change on a local level. 

There is of course another way

Recycling well isn’t enough which is why it’s vitally important to reduce your waste wherever you can. 

Small changes you can make include always carrying a tote bag with you (to avoid plastic bags), buying fresh unpackaged food where possible (or taking your own containers), refilling old containers at your local zero waste store, or switching your personal hygiene routine to plastic-free. 

Why not set yourself a challenge to make one change every six months, and watch your general waste and recycling bins fill up a lot less quickly? 

You can access eco-friendly stores in your area with Find My EcoStore, our free, community-built tool or check out our online store for a range of eco products so that making a small switch is even easier. 

We’d love to know if you make any small changes, and how you get on. So make sure you tag us as your progress to reducing your waste in general.


1 comment


  • Catherine Cossa

    Hi, I have only glass containers since three years now and I make my own laundry liquid.
    I would like to know exactly what is recycled in UK because I don’t like the idea of sending some of my recycling in other countries.
    Is it possible to have this list.
    Thanks a lot
    All the best
    Catherine


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