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31 Things That Cannot Be Recycled

31 Things That Cannot Be Recycled

Image Credit: renato cardoso

Have you heard of Wishcycling?

Also known as “aspirational recycling”, it is the desire to add items to domestic recycling collections because you want them to be recycled, even when they are not items that your local council’s collection is able to recycle.

It may be because the item is recyclable but must be separated from the main collection bin, or it may have to be taken to a recycling centre or local collection point. In any case, these enthusiastic recyclers cause enormous problems at the recycling plant that receives these items. They have to be removed by human sorters, and if missed can damage machinery or contaminate the recycled material, making it unusable.

Here is a list of things that you cannot put into your main recycling bin in the UK.  Many of these things are recyclable and may be collected by your local council waste service. However, you might have to leave them out separately from your bin, or take them to a collection point.

Keep It Clean

The other thing that can really cause problems for recyclers is where people put otherwise recyclable material into the recycling collection bins which is dirty. This is why your council asks you to wash out tins, rinse out your milk bottles and not put your dirty pizza boxes in.

Things That Cannot Be Recycled

So here are the things which can’t go into your recycling collection bin - but most of them can be recycled with just a little bit more effort.

  1. Toothpaste Tubes
  2. Although your local council probably collects toiletry packaging such as shampoo and shower gel bottles, toothpaste tubes cannot be thrown in your domestic recycling.

    This is because the plastic that they are made from consists of layers of different materials which can only be recycled at a specialist recycling plant. At present you will have to put them in your waste bin.

  3. Pots and Pans
  4. These may be made from metal, but non-stick coatings or enamelling mean that these cannot be domestically recycled. You should take them to your local recycling centre.

  5. Disposable Nappies, Sanitary and Incontinence Products
  6. If you live in many parts of Wales, you have been able to recycle disposable nappies and other absorbent hygiene products for several years, usually collected separately in a “purple sack” with your kerbside collection. In the rest of the UK these items have to go into your waste bin, although at time of writing there is a trial going on in Bristol to collect these items for recycling.

    What are they recycled into, you may ask. Well it turns out that the nappy material, when added to the bitumen used for road surfacing, can increase the life of the road surface by up to 100%.

  7. Plastic Bags
  8. The plastic bags that you get from shops, or are used to package products cannot be put in domestic recycling as yet, however many supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury now have collections of plastic bags and film in larger branches where you can put these plastic items.

  9. Shop Receipts
  10. Most shop receipts are made of thermal paper, so they cannot be recycled because this type of paper is coated with chemicals which changes colour when heated. The chemicals used mean that these cannot be recycled and should be put in your domestic waste.

  11. Electrical and Electronic Items
  12. While these items cannot go into your recycling bin, they are widely recycled, as they can contain many valuable metals that are in high demand.

    Check with your local council, but many will collect small items if you place them on top of your bin, otherwise they can be taken along with larger items to your local recycling centre.

  13. Batteries
  14. Again while these cannot be put into your bin, you may be able to put them on top if your bin in a plastic bag, while many supermarkets and electrical shops have drop-off points where these can be left for recycling.

  15. Food Stained Paper and Card
  16. If your paper or card is stained with grease or food stains, it cannot be recycled at all, as the food residue will affect the recycling process, so these should be thrown into your waste bin.

  17. Water Filters
  18. Water filters used in water jugs by the brand Brita can be recycled at collection points at most large supermarkets and branches of Robert Dyas. They are not accepted at most household recycling centres.  If you use an Aqua Optima filter jug they can be recyled by Terracycle. Check their website to find a local collection point.

  19. Shiny Gift Wrap
  20. Shiny gift wrap is made from plastic sheet, so cannot go into your blue bin. It is probably some kind of laminated plastic and paper combination, so this will have to go into your waste bin. Here are some much more sustainable gift wrapping ideas.

  21. Greetings Cards with Glitter
  22. Glitter is made from plastic, so if you remove the glittery sections from the card, throw them in your waste bin you can still recycle the non-glittery section.

  23. Garden Waste
  24. Garden waste should not be put into a recycling bin, despite the fact that it is the ultimate recyclable material! If you can, compost at home or put it into a green bin. If you don’t have a green bin, take it to your local recycling centre.

  25. Food Waste
  26. Almost every local council in the UK has a food waste collection, and provides households with a separate bin to put their food scraps in.

  27. Shredded Paper
  28. In general no recycling collections will accept shredded paper added loose to your recycling bin. Apart from the mess, the strips of paper can become trapped in the recycling machinery, causing breakdowns.

    Some councils will accept shredded paper that is enclosed in a paper bag.  Check with your local council before putting any shredded paper in your recycling bin.

  29. Polystyrene
  30. Polystyrene items such as cups, takeaway trays or packaging is not widely collected for recycling and should be disposed of in your waste bin.

  31. Paper Towels
  32. Used paper towels cannot be recycled along with domestic paper collections as they will be soiled. They should be placed in your waste bin.

  33. Textiles and Clothing
  34. Textile items such as clothes, sheets and towels cannot be put in your recycling bin, however many councils will collect a small bag of textiles along with your recycling bin. If your council does not collect, textiles can be taken to your local recycling centre and many charity shops may accept it as “rag” for recycling as well.

  35. Shoes
  36. Shoes cannot be put in your recycling bin but they can be recycled. Ask at your local charity shop if they accept shoes for recycling or they may be accepted at your local recycling centre. Otherwise they will have to go into the waste bin.

  37. Full Aerosol Cans
  38. Empty aerosols can be recycled domestically in most areas of the UK, but the cans should always be completely empty due to the potential danger of explosion. Always completely empty your aerosol before putting it in your blue bin.

  39. Plastic Film
  40. Like plastic bags, these should be put into the special collection bins found at some larger supermarkets.

  41. Drinking Glasses
  42. Drinking glasses are not made from the same type of glass as the jars that contain food. If they are in good condition donate them, or otherwise they have to go into your waste bin.

  43. Pyrex
  44. Like drinking glasses, Pyrex is a non-recyclable specialist material which also has to go into your waste bin.

  45. Disposable Coffee Cups
  46. Disposable coffee cups may look like card, but they are lined with a thin layer of plastic which stops the coffee leaking out. These should be put in a specialist coffee cup recycling collection point, which many large chains of coffee shops do offer.

  47. Pet Food Pouches & Crisp Packets
  48. These can be collected with the plastic bag and film collection points at major supermarkets. Please clean them out first, especially the pet food ones.

  49. Stickers
  50. Stickers are another complex material that makes them unsuitable for domestic recycling. They may contain layers of paper, plastic and adhesive, and should be put in the waste bin.

  51. Books
  52. This very much depends on your local council, and more are beginning to accept books in recycling bins. Check on your local council website, and consider donating to local charity shops if they are in good condition.

  53. Packing Peanuts
  54. Traditional packing peanuts are made from polystyrene which cannot be recycled in your domestic collection, and so should be put in the bin.

    However starch-based peanuts are becoming more and more popular. If you receive a parcel containing packing peanuts, many retailers will alert you to the fact that they are biodegradable and can be composted.

    If you are not sure which they are, here is how to find out. Place one of the peanuts in water for a few moments.  Take it out and then gently squash it between your fingers. If it is polystyrene it will bounce back.  If it is starch-based it will collapse and feel sticky to the touch.

  55. Bioplastics
  56. As well as starch packing peanuts, you may also have other bioplastics to dispose of. These may be made from potato as well as starch and are designed to be biodegradable.  These cannot be recycled, but can be composted or used to line a food waste bin. If not they should be placed in your waste bin.

  57. Medical Waste
  58. Any medical waste should be disposed of very carefully, and should never go in your recycling bin.

    In the UK most pharmacies will accept part used packets of tablets, ointments and empty inhalers for safe disposal. Some pharmacies may also collect empty pill packets for recycling as well.

    Medical sharps should always be placed in a specially designed sharps box. They should never be placed in a waste bin, where they could injure a waste disposal worker. When the sharps box is full you can ask your local council to collect it from you.

  59. Paint
  60. Paint or empty paint tins cannot be recycled in your domestic recycling bin – not even metal ones. They are widely accepted at household recycling centres and part used tins can be donated to Community RePaint.

  61. Wood
  62. Wooden items are accepted at all household recycling centres

  63. Light Bulbs
  64. Some areas will collect modern energy efficient light bulbs if they are placed on top of the bin in a carrier bag, but check with your local council. If not they can be taken to recycling centres or are collected at many supermarkets.

    Older incandescent tungsten bulbs are not recyclable and must be put in your waste bin.   

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