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TO RECYCLE OR NOT TO RECYCLE: Mismanagement, misinformation and misconceptions about recycling

A shocking news report has shown that millions of Brits, despite having constant exposure to recycling practices, are unsure of how to sort their recycling. A survey of 2000 adults revealed that approximately a third of that figure did not fully comprehend how to recycleᶦ. Although 87% of British people recycle, about 82% put items in the recycling bin that can’t be recycled, and consequently, only 45% of this is what is recycles is actually recyclable.ᶦᶦ

A recent documentary on Channel 4ᶦᶦᶦ explores what happens to waste after it leaves our homes. Shockingly, but unsurprisingly, most of the plastic ends up in landfills where it will take hundreds of years to decompose. Sometimes, the waste is burned to produce energy and although this is more carbon-proficient than burning coal, it remains the second most carbon-intensive method of energy production. Previously, the UK exported most of this waste to countries like China, Malaysia and Vietnam until more recently imposing far stricter regulations. Studies have found that pollution and close proximity to it causes between approximately 400,000 to 1 million annual deaths. Further, a Turkish report found that 160,000 tonnes of waste that ends up in Turkey makes its way there illegally and is then either burnt on the streets or dumped in landfills.ᶦᵛ From this, we see the dire effects of the trivial contemplation of what we should and what we shouldn’t recycle.

DO recycle:

  • Paper

  • Cardboard (and cartons)

  • Rigid plastic products

  • Mixed paper and card (if you scrunch it and it springs back, it can be recycled)

  • Soda cans

  • Glass Jars

  • Non-food bottles (perfumes, aftershave etc.)

  • Bottles (milk, water, juice etc.)

DON’T Recycle:

  • Toothpaste and other squeezable tubes

  • Drinking glasses and other Pyrex dishes

  • Crisp packets

  • Salad bags

  • Plastic sleeves on Lucozade bottles

  • Pringles tubes

  • Cotton wool and makeup removal pads

  • Food waste (and any materials contaminated by food waste)

  • Disposable masks

*** Remember to consistently check your local council recycling policy (as it is subject to frequent change) ***

There are other ways to curb the hazardous effects of waste accumulating from poor recycling choices. For example, buying less disposable coffee cups and instead, opting for a reusable thermos. Firstly, this will save you money because many big chain coffee stores like Starbucks or Costa have actually implemented sustainability schemes which cut consumer costs if you bring a reusable cup. Second, and more importantly, it also cuts down the annual carbon footprint produced by coffee cups which stands currently at 152,000 tonnes with only 400 of the total 2.5 billion coffee cups made ultimately getting recycled.ᵛ

By being more aware and educated when we recycle, we can ensure that we are 100% making a difference and taking steps to help the planet!


ᶦ I Team, “Study reveals millions of British people are still unsure what to recycle” (i News, 27 September 2018) <> 23 March 2021

ᶦᶦ Channel 4, “Dirty Truth About Your Rubbish: Dispatches” (Channel 4, 8 March 2021) <> 21 March 2021


ᶦᵛ Lizzie Carr, Treated Like Trash: What UK Recycling Systems Teach Us About Waste Colonialism, (29 July 2020) <accessed 21 March 2021>

ᵛ Jamie Doward, ‘Why Britain’s 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are an eco disaster’, The Guardian (London, 26 April 2020) <> accessed 21 March 2021.

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