Who is responsible for reducing our plastic waste?

Plastic waste

Last week, China introduced a ban on importing plastic waste and debates kicked off on a proposed ‘latte levy’ to cut coffee cup waste. Guest author, Hannah, joins us here on Which? Convo as she ponders whether it’s time we took a bit more responsibility for our own waste?

Today was my recycling day and I diligently put out our waste. Admittedly, there was more than usual thanks to the Christmas excesses, but as ever, my mind turned to how to consume less plastic as I squashed it all into the green bin.

Waste in the UK

Last week, China introduced its ban on importing plastic waste, meaning the UK can no longer ship its recycling to China. We’ve been sending an incredible 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling to China every year – that’s more than a quarter of all our plastics – but now the trade has been stopped.

So, what are we going to with it all? It’s no shock to hear the UK Recycling Association saying that the UK cannot deal with that much waste. And Recoup, an organisation which recycles plastics, says China’s imports ban could lead to stock-piling of plastic waste and incineration and landfill.

And according to a report published on Friday, in the UK we use and throw away around 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups. Using these non-recyclable coffee cups produces around 30,000 tonnes of waste every year. Some MPs are now calling for 25p ‘latte levy’ on takeaway coffee cups to cut waste.

If you watched Blue Planet II recently it was hard not to be concerned about our passion for plastic, as David Attenborough explained how marine life is being affected. Greenpeace estimates that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, killing marine life, threatening ecosystems and contaminating the fish we eat.

Recycling has hit a low point

Last April, I wrote here on Which? Conversation about how few throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials – just 7%, according to a Greenpeace report.

And, the news of China’s importing ban on plastic waste comes at a time when UK recycling rates have flatlined for five years – Keep Britain Tidy says that rates dropped to 44% in 2016. Now that we‘ve lost our ability to recycle much of our plastic in China, the knock-on effect on our recycling rates could be disastrous.

Solving the plastic problem

In November, the Chancellor announced that the government is considering taxing single-use containers, following a four-week consultation on bringing back deposit return schemes for bottles. The idea has been backed by retailers, including Co-op and Iceland.

I like this idea as it puts responsibility on both the retailer and the consumer, plus it’s been proven to work in other countries. In the UK, just 57% of all plastic bottles are collected for recycling, compared with up to 90% in countries that have deposit return schemes.

But I also believe in taking more personal responsibility and this year I’ve made it my resolution to consume less plastic. Here are a few ways that I have started:

  1. 1. Using tubs instead of plastic wrap to store food in the fridge and special ‘bento’ boxes for the children’s packed lunches
  2. 2. I got a Sodastream fizzy water maker for Christmas so I don’t have to buy bottled fizzy water – I would highly recommend this to fizzy water lovers!
  3. 3. No more plastic packets of ready-sliced cheeses – my new cheese slice creates the same thin slices for sandwiches
  4. 4. Buying loose fruit and veg instead of ready-packaged produce in plastic trays – and reusing the small plastic bags from my local fruit and veg shop
  5. 5. Taking a reusable coffee cup to cafés when buying a takeaway coffee.

Have you made any small changes like this to try to reduce your plastic consumption? How much personal responsibility do you think we should take and how much should be placed on the government and industry to make major changes? Do you think a plastic deposit-return scheme could help reduce waste?

This is a guest contribution by Hannah Jolliffe. All views expressed here are Hannah’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.


It is ridiculous, disgusting and totally irresponsible that the UK cannot deal with its own waste and recycling.

It is a matter of some urgency that the government gets recycling plants built around the country. Too expensive to run? Then get prisoners to earn their keep, or build plants with accommodation and give those on the streets a roof over their heads and a temporary job until they can take care of themselves, a sort of rehab.

We try to recycle as much as we can. I contacted our council to ask which plastic recycling codes could be put into the recycling bin. They didn’t know and just named a few items that were ok. They have improved since then and now list more items on their website, but it is still not good enough. What is the point of classifying plastics if councils don’t know what they are and pass this info onto residents?

Why do Fairy and Ariel washing liquid have measuring contraptions on every single bottle? Sell them without, the product could be cheaper and measuring cups could be sold separately for 10p each.

Large food cartons like yogurt, dips and side salads with film tops are wasteful. Standardise cartons and sell reusable lids.

Re: fizzy drinks.
“In a recent study done last year at Birzeit University in the Palestinian territories, researchers took a group of male rats and gave them either a fizzy sugary drink, a flat sugary drink or tap water to consume. They found that the rats who regularly drank the gassy sugary drink put on more weight at a much faster rate than rats given either flat sugary liquids or tap water. When they took blood samples, they found that the rats drinking fizz had much higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which could explain the weight gain”

The research is the basis for another Michael Mosley special on BBC. The obvious conclusion is fizziness is undesirable. More so if you believe that the phosphoric acid binds with the calcium in the body – however the effects noted in studies actually seem to suggets that people are drinking less milk and more fizz so it is actually reduced calcium intake as the culprit.

As to the plastic problem there is no doubt that for effective action to occur the raw material has to be made more expensive so that alternatives become economically viable. As we know from personal experience plastics are substituted for metal and glass because of generally cheapness.

When it comes to the food chain that will take some engineering to change but it is not impossible.

Perhaps an unseen and potent risk, which I have mentioned before , is the shedding of plastics from man-made fabrics every time we wash clothes. The fact this article below was in 2016 and it is a shame that Which? has not mentioned it.

The GuppyBag should have been much pushed – and the video shows why.

Lessismore says:
10 January 2018

I think this may also link in to the problem of filters on washer dryers and dryers where they have been catching fire. The filters need regularly cleaning and the fibres need to be put in a bin and not flushed or washed down the sink!

Tumble dryer manufacturers tell you to wash the filters, so again fibres would get into the water supply.

I vacuum mine with a soft brush on a flat surface after putting most of it in the bin, so without thinking, have saved fibres going into the waste water. 😇

I just found it easier than washing or showering them.

That makes sense. The problem is synthetic rather than natural fibres but clothing made largely out of natural fibres often contains some synthetic materials to improve its properties. For example, cotton rich’ is not just cotton.

As to the plastic problem there is no doubt that for effective action to occur the raw material has to be made more expensive so that alternatives become economically viable. As we know from personal experience plastics are substituted for metal and glass because of generally cheapness.

When it comes to the food chain that will take some engineering to change but it is not impossible.

Perhaps an unseen and potent risk, which I have mentioned before , is the shedding of plastics from man-made fabrics every time we wash clothes. The fact this article below was in 2016 and it is a shame that Which? has not mentioned it.

The GuppyBag should have been much pushed – and the video shows why.

Fibres shed during washing is a pollutant we don’t tend to think of.

Using one GuppyBag would make the spinning cycle uneven and maybe reduce the life of a washing machine, so at least 2 would be required in a wash.

Wouldn’t it be better to incorporate GuppyBag technology into washing machines to filter waste water with suitable warnings and safety to prevent flooding and buildup of fibres?

I agree about that bags of washing could unbalance a machine during the spin cycle and wonder if the manufacturers have given much thought to practical problems. Many supposedly environmentally friendly solutions are not necessarily as good as they seem.

> Bags for Life are often used only once or twice and now that they are made of recycled plastic they are not nearly as durable as when they were introduced.

> Reusable water bottles may not be used many times. Some are well used but look at what others are carrying and many are shiny and new.

I agree that it would be desirable to have a safer method but given the legacy effects and the lengthy roll-out period I would prefer a water treatment plant solution. There is also the possibility thta filters will not be cleaned or simply sluiced down a sink.

In the meantime a bag seems quick and cheapish to implement if not ideal. As to the unbalancing effects I am not convinced this is so likely given my experience of large cotton towels.

I don’t see any easy way of dealing with fibres among the sewage, grease and everything else that ends up at a sewage treatment plant. I think you are right in assuming that filters designed to trap fibres might be washed under a tap. 🙁

It would be interesting to have some feedback about how well washing bags perform in practice. I suspect that they may reduce the effectiveness of the washing action.

Good points.

I hope to give feedback on the washing effectiveness by seeking a scientific appraisal!.

As to the sludge if it is put into the land …?! If it is caught in the post-treatment water before discharge then it makes sense but yes presumably much is already being trapped in the sludge. However my knowledge of sewage treatment is very fundamental – if not rudimental.
: )

There is European legislation – the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive – that is in place to protect our environment. My interest has been related to pollution of watercourses (ditches to rivers) that pass through land protected for its wildlife interest and I appreciate its role in helping safeguard our drinking water supply. It is relevant to the discharge of microplastics/biobeads but have not read up on current practice and what is likely to be achieved in practice. From what I have seen online, it’s essential to tackle the problem at source because removal of plastic particles at sewage works is only partially effective.

I’ll be interested to learn what you find.

It’s good to see you back again, Hannah. Back in the early 80s I used to use a large Adidas sports bag to drop off glass and paper for recycling at the supermarket collection points and then used it as a shopping bag to take groceries home. That was in the days before we had recycling bins. I carry a couple of folded ‘bags for life’ in the pockets of my coat so that if I am in town and decide to do some shopping I have a bag handy. The boot of the car always contains fabric and plastic bags in case I forget to take them on a shopping expedition.

Sadly, I still see customers buying new single-use and other bags frequently when I’m standing at checkouts. Maybe if we explain to children that our present lifestyle is unsustainable it would help.

I think it is unrealistic to expect that 100% of shoppers will be capable of bringing enough re-usable bags to the supermarket 100% of the time.

I think you are right, but perhaps we could do better if we all make an effort: “Large retailers in England sold 2.1 billion single-use plastic carrier bags during the year from 7 April 2016 to 6 April 2017.” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carrier-bag-charge-summary-of-data-in-england/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-charge-data-in-england-for-2016-to-2017

I agree.

I now usually travel everywhere with my pockets stuffed full of carrier bags.

Even so, I still sometimes need to pay for additional ones.

As I see it, all those folk who happily pay £stupid for bottled water (or sugary drinks) or frothy take away coffee will gladly pay 5p per carrier when they are paying £lots for their shopping.

I don’t think we can ever eliminate the need for food packaging – but we can choose to adopt more sustainable ways of providing it.

With regard to the title of this convo, we should not forget that Recycling is only the 3rd best of the three R’s. Reducing what we need to use and Re-using as much of it as possible need to be higher priorities.

We’ve not had plastic carriers for several years, now, and we still forget to grab a bag sometimes. But our eldest son simply pays for a new bag for life each time he goes shopping. They don’t get thrown away, because he’s paid for them, and every so often we become the lucky recipients of around 30 bags for life…

Rather than spending your Bucks on a Costly Coffee, all that’s needed is an expensive reusable water bottle: http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/09/16-of-the-best-looking-reusable-water-bottles-6055560/ http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/outdoor-activity/sports-equipment-accessories/best-water-bottles-for-work-running-cycling-hiking-reviews-a6717726.html

What’s wrong with just refilling a disposable water bottle repeatedly?

That’s what we do so we always have two or three bottles of chilled tap water in the fridge during the summer. We change the water if it hasn’t been consumed and we renew the bottles from time to time as well. In the winter, the water drawn from the tap is at the perfect temperature and very enjoyable. I find that a bubble-wrap lined pre-used Jiffy bag is just right for taking a couple of bottles of water out and keeping it cool; pre-cooling the Jiffy bag in the fridge might be a good idea as well but I have not tried that.

I agree with all Alfa has said, especially that we should take full responsibility for our own waste and not consign it to other countries.

Shipping waste plastic all round the world never was a good idea – it was just an expedient to use up empty container space on vessels returning to China. One consequence of China’s refusal to import waste plastic is that their exports will become dearer as there will be less income from return loads of empty containers. Not a bad thing overall, but other waste materials like wood, paper and metal will still be sailing the seven seas burning fossil fuel and possibly polluting the oceans as they go. The authorities are desperately looking for alternative markets for plastic waste and India and Vietnam have both put their hands up for more.

I think some of the decline in the recycling rate is because it is measured by tonnage. Over the last few years there has been a lot of substitution of metal containers by plastic or by lighter aluminium. Many foodstuffs [like soup] have been converted from liquid to powder form and packed in paper and cardboard rather then metal. More textiles are now taken to charity shops rather than put in the bin – they end up there eventually, though, unless they are ultimately transferred to a textile recovery plant or rag merchant. Glass is another thing where there seems to be no universal policy on whether or not it can be put in the recycling bin. There are very few glass jars in our food cupboard nowadays compared with a few years ago as so much comes n plastic now [to reduce transport costs]. Unpicking all this will be a challenge.

I am not sure why carbonated water and drinks have become so popular. I think there was a campaign some years ago to get everyone to drink two litres of water a day [completely unnecessary] and instead of just taking some from the tap people thought bottled was better and fizzy was best – so they end up bloated but hungry.

The coffee-on-the-go craze is responsible for a lot of problems including street litter. Is it so essential? Or just a lifestyle trend? We used to wait until we got into the office before making a coffee; of course, that was just a boring cup of instant, not the frothy coffee and other concoctions that are now so much in demand. As usual, I blame the austerity programme for these extravagances.

Our recycling bin is usually full to the top each fortnight whereas the general rubbish bin is barely a quarter full. That seems right in one respect, but why is there so much paper, cardboard and plastic waste? – Processing it is an environmental problem in itself consuming energy and creating some pollution. For various reasons, pubs can no longer return to the brewery for re-use their empty beer bottles – instead of going back economically on the dray that brings new supplies they get thrown in a bin and carted away for crushing and re-forming into new glass bottles. One of the main purposes of recycling is to prevent nasty materials from ending up in landfill or the sea but the inconsistent and ignorant conditions means that many people will not bother to sort out their waste and decide whether their used food containers are this or that so they put it all in the general rubbish bin. Our Council has asked people to rinse out their bottles and jars – good idea – and then dry them and put the tops back on. Oh, yes, . . . we’re all going to do that aren’t we? The reasoning is that any liquid left in the bottles and jars will “contaminate” other materials in the waste stream. Really?

Lessismore says:
22 January 2018

I suspect that telling you to rinse out your jars and bottles and dry them and then put the lids back on is because the recycling company can now deal with the metal lids like that, it is better for the collection to not have loose metal lids and it is a way of adding the metal lids to your kerbside recycling collection. (Many collections do not include any lids). I remember seeing an announcement that glass recycling companies can accept them like this now too – http://www.recyclenow.com tells you to put the metal lids back on no doubt in their attempt to make different LAs recycling collections more alike. NO CORKS! However they should all be EMPTY and this important instruction is perhaps too obvious to be made! In the fast gotta-have-it-grab-it-and-go get-rid-get-rid lifestyle living on credit and slathered in plastic there is an increased difficulty in management. It also makes the collections less attractive to vermin and less unattractive for the workers (it isn’t just machines even if machines are involved) to deal with.

I would like to see all packaging material subject to an environmental charge, much in the same way that garages and tyre fitters make a charge for disposal of used tyres. Some of these companies show this charge separately on their invoice, and hopefully this helps raise awareness of the costs involved in disposal of used tyres.

I had hoped that the charges for single-use plastic bags would put an end to their use but still see them being used in supermarkets. I suspect that giving buyers a plastic token which is then used typically to support one of three charities is actually an incentive to buy these bags.

Lessismore says:
10 January 2018

Still too many plastic bags. Interesting to hear today that the levy will be revisited hopefully to bring us into line with Scotland. Why the little shops were left out is beyond me. Who lobbied for that? What has happened is that the little shopkeeper has found his customers demanding free bags because he doesn’t by law have to charge for them – the little shopkeeper who is less likely to be able to swallow the cost! Some people have funny ideas abut rights – all rights and no responsibilities. Good to see that there have been packaging changes in the packaging responsibilities regulations. I hope that this means that small shops/pubs etc part of a group are individually responsible and not just as part of a group.

When I visit the village shop I have to persuade the assistants that I don’t need a bag. It’s part of the large Costcutter chain, which has 1700 branches, but is presumably classed as an independent. Some customers take their own bags but others seem happy to have a free bag, even for one or two items. 🙁

They will all have to charge for carrier bags at some time soon. I keep one reusable bag in the car for unplanned shopping, and we are in the habit of always taking several reusable (hemp and plastic) “bags for life” on the weekly expedition.

I don’t make regular visits to the supermarket but tend to call in when passing in the car, so I keep a collection of bags in the boot most of the time. I’ve been doing this for about 40 years. Prior to the bag charge I would usually take a bag from clothes shop/department stores and then add other items bought in other shops. Some of these stores insisted that I used their bags, but I refused, pointing out that I had a receipt as evidence of purchase. Nowadays I just take a ‘bag for life’ when clothes shopping.

I’m sure that those who are contributing to this discussion are beyond reproach, but how to we get everyone else on board?

I agree that – as consumers – we must act as the primary means for reducing the usage of plastic packaging.

Hence, where practicable, we must not buy products that use needless quantities of plastic packaging. I see this as being simply down to us, with little or no input needed by nanny state.

If we could get everyone to do this, retailers would notice our sales preferences and then respond by favouring more sustainable forms of packaging.

Supermarkets need persuading that not everything needs to come pre-packed.

I could not buy loose parsnips in Sainsburys or Waitrose for our Xmas dinner. So ended up roasting whole carrots instead. 🥕🥕

I have found shortages of loose vegetables recently, including potatoes – sometimes we only want two or three carrots, not a whole bag full, and parsnips now come in a medley with other veg that we might already have.

Part of the reason for pre-packing veg is to dispose of the small ones that people probably don’t want and wouldn’t pick given the choice.

That was why I didn’t buy the pre-packed parsnips anyway, too many small ones in the packet.

So that problem needs to go back to the growers and ask why they are being harvested too soon.

Lessismore says:
11 January 2018

I love being able to buy just four carrots loose in our Sainsburys Local. This choice sadly doesn’t extend to parsnips. I remember seeing Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s programmes about waste in the food chain and have bought packs of Wonky Vegetables (parsnips and others) from Morrisons when I’ve seen them. Unfortunately these were packaged in a plastic bag that was not “Recyclable with Carrier Bags not at the Kerbside” so I felt that perhaps I was being penalised for wanting them! I can see that there can be a problem segregating the vegetables that we have been conditioned to seeing for sale so that it doesn’t look like a drop in quality – since the supermarkets are so hugely competitive and their excuse to not all agreeing on something in the past has been that it could be considered that they were acting as a cartel – but still wonder if these would be more successful if they were packed in recyclable packaging if they must be separate. If you grow or have grown your own vegetables then you are more acceptable of variation in size, shape, colour ie appearance.

Alternative markets are always important but may be easier for the entrepreneur to seek out and access than the hard-pressed farmer.

Of course you will find it easier to buy naked vegetables in the greengrocers but getting to one has to be planned harder because we’ve got used to the flexibility allowed by supermarkets’ long hours. There are some very good corner shops though. So I guess I’d be happier if I was more organised!

My county recycles, reuses or composts just over half of its waste. We have 5 wheelie bins, (3 are for garden waste). As we only have one or 2 carrier bags of non-recyclable waste per fortnight, I estimate we recycle 95% of our waste at the kerbside plus tetrapaks and other stuff we take for recycling.

Just over 50% for the county seems a very poor result.

There are no standards where household recycling collections are concerned. All councils do their own thing, some better than others. Kerbside sorting seems to produce the best results but my area doesn’t use this method.

Instead everything goes into one bin. John mentioned putting lids back on bottles to stop cross contamination. 🤔 Rather a pointless exercise when everything gets tipped into one big container and glass probably ends up smashed.

Putting everything into one bin has to produce waste that cannot be processed for recycling and will end up in land-fill or incinerated so we have to do better.

Our wheelie bins are currently made in Germany. Why aren’t they made in the UK with our recycled plastic? We have to stop shipping stuff unnecessarily around the world.

Lessismore says:
10 January 2018

WRAP has had government funding to try and bring Local Authority household kerbside recycling requirements closer to each other – as one of the most common complaints from householders is that what you can and can’t recycle varies from LA to LA. http://www.recyclenow.com is the website that they are updating. There is lots of useful information together with help on how and where to recycle. You can put your postcode in to find the nearest recycling bank as well as find out what is recycled kerbside. This means that recycling banks OTHER than those provided by your LA can be listed. However it does depend on the right information being uploaded by the various groups. I keep finding incorrect LA information which is extremely exasperating. I wish some of them would get out of their offices and go and see what is on the streets – but then maybe they don’t have any staff left now due to the cuts. It is a very good reason for the public to contact the LA and their Local Councillors to point out any problems.

Do look at WRAP’s website as they have a lot of interesting information on how major companies have been working with them to lightweight and redesign packaging as well as best practice guides.

Hannah mentions the Sodastream in her introduction. For younger readers they were a popular way of making fizzy drinks before cans and bottles flooded the market.

My nomination is the vacuum flask (Thermos et al.). I have three sizes, all well used, which I take when driving a distance or going out for the day. If the thought of saving paper/plastic cups is not enough incentive, think of the price of coffee at motorway service areas.

I probably still count as a ‘younger’ reader (or like to think so). I well remember the SodaStream, and used to use one as a child – mainly to make fizzy Ribena. It was good fun to experiment with, although my parents might have other views (let’s just say that if you try to carbonate milk in a SodaStream, it doesn’t make it fizzy, but does efficiently cover your entire kitchen in milk).

Adam, I remember the revival of the SodaStream, which happened a few years ago. I think I may have been too young to remember it the first time round 🙁

Thinking of Adam’s minor disaster, I imagine that the instructions for the SodaStream say that it should only be used to carbonate water, with flavourings then being added to the carbonated water. Doing it in the wrong order will mean a cleaning problem, possibly a major one if there is excessive frothing.

I don’t particularly like drinking water, but the concept of buying it in bottles when you’ve already paid for unlimited supplies of better stuff from your tap seems strange – more strange than regularly spending £2.95 on a cup of coffee. The advantage of the Soda Stream, if it had been made compulsory, would be a huge reduction in the number of fizzy drink miles transporting primarily water to shops and pubs, and a huge drop in the number of cans and bottles – plastic or glass. Perhaps someone could invent a fizzy water tap – a “Fooker” perhaps – with a decent capacity as many pubs use? 🙂

We often advocate a “tax” to try to correct something we dislike. It is only effective if the money raised is then used to mitigate the problem – in the case of packaging, to deal with the treatment of inescapable packaging, or to fund better materials. We could begin to do that without a tax, otherwise we just push up the cost of living.

Perhaps we could start a Convo on the unnecessary packaging that we each find as we buy stuff and give constructive views as to how it could be improved. If Which? kept an eye on our inventive solutions they might put together a constructive campaign to persuade someone to take action; begin with the more responsible retailers perhaps? I remember when in Canada people bought (permanent) plastic milk jugs and the milk came in strong polythene bags; drop one in the jug, snip off the corner of the bag, and off you go – no bottles and caps to fill your bin. Degradable plastic would be even better.And why do we need cornflakes in cardboard boxes when the inner bag will provide adequate protection?

I recently bought Mornflake oats that come in just a cardboard container. Good from a recycling point of view, but the resealable tab does not seal very well. Okay at this time of year, but I can imagine a trail of ants in summer. 🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜

Clipping the box inside a large food bag (plastic) would defeat the object of saving on packaging. We will just have to use it up quickly.

A convo on unnecessary packaging and constructive suggestions for improvements is a good idea though.

I suspect that the cardboard packet would have to moisture-proof to prevent the oats absorbing moisture from the atmosphere, otherwise the quality would deteriorate and risk encourage growth of invisible moulds, some of which can affect allergy sufferers. It does not help that food is generally stored in kitchens, where cooking can put a considerable amount of moisture in the atmosphere.

Even wax-treatment of cardboard and paper greatly increases the time taken for it to break down. Porridge oats are generally sold in a box without an inside plastic bag but I don’t know how quickly the box biodegrades.

Lessismore says:
11 January 2018

We’re very happy buying our breakfast oats in a cardboard box without an inner unrecyclable plastic bag and are constantly being disappointed when yet another manufacturer of something or other changes to using a plastic bag.

I buy them too, but I wonder if the cardboard has been impregnated or treated to help keep the contents dry. Hard, glossy surfaces greatly delay composting. Years ago I had university contacts who worked on biodegradation and learned how much these factors can impede biodegradation.

Phil Simpson says:
8 January 2018

For far to long, the Which? magazines have been sent too members wrapped in single use plastic. I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of these plastic wrappers have been just discarded and gone too landfill. I did email the Which? editor about this last year, but didn’t get a reply. Perhaps Which? could try and send their magazine in a recycled paper envelope?

The polyethylene (PE) plastic wrapping we use to mail out the magazines is compliant with the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme, and fully recyclable along with carrier bags at major supermarkets (as stated on the wrapping) – these include larger stores of Asda, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, this is available in more than 75 percent of local authority areas. OPRL strongly encourages the use of PE wrapping over other types of wrapping for magazines, but it is important to recycle it as stated here, rather than through kerbside collections.

We are planning to review the material we use in the coming months to see if it is still the most appropriate choice available to us. For logistical reasons, it is very unlikely we will be able to move away from plastic to paper, for example, but if there are any better alternatives to PE on the market, we will certainly consider them.

I wonder how many people segregate their recyclable plastic waste and take it with them to a supermarket. I had no idea such a scheme existed. Many recycling bins are being removed from our council’s car parks and village halls.

I must admit I had no idea that magazine wrappers and similar waste could be recycled through public facilities. The councils certainly don’t want it in the household recycling bins. We throw a considerable quantity of this waste in the general rubbish every week; I’m not sure we want yet another receptacle – the kitchen already has a food caddy, a general rubbish pedal bin, a compost pedal bin [salad leaves, peelings, banana skins, etc], a large tub for recyclable waste, and a wrappers box for all that metalised paper or foil that comes off food packs [e.g youghurts, fruit, etc] and doesn’t scrunch up but ends up in the general waste wheelie bin. Elsewhere in the house there are boxes for batteries, printer cartridges, and plastic supermarket and charity collection bags. There comes a point where it all gets too much.

What interests me is why no entrepreneurs have developed machinery for sorting out all the different types of waste from a general load. At the moment householders have to do it all, so glass has to be sorted, washed and dried, plastic has to be sorted into Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), High-density polyethylene (HDPE), Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), Polypropylene (PP) and Polystyrene (PS), paper separated from plastic, cardboards separated into coloured or plain, food, batteries, various chemicals, metal cans, cartons…the list seems endless. It does seem a wonderful opportunity for someone, somewhere to develop the technology and machinery capable of doing it all.

I enquired about this when it all kicked off and was told ‘It can’t be done’ but I suspect not only can it be done, but the impediment to doing it is probably the money required to design and create such a plant.

In the UK, each local authority has its own system, making it difficult for residents to be confident about what they can recycle and where. Sweden, OTOH, is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Less than 1 per cent of Swedish household waste was sent to landfill last year or any year since 2011. Over time, Sweden has implemented a cohesive national recycling policy so that even though private companies undertake most of the business of importing and burning waste, the energy goes into a national heating network to heat homes through the freezing Swedish winter. And not everyone approves of that.

But the simple fact is that here it’s been left to local authorities, a lazy ‘get-out’ by the government that’s ensured no two authorities use the same system. If W? is to do anything it should be to bring pressure on the government to plan and create a national recycling system. Perhaps then the potential financial impetus will exist to invent a plant that will be capable of sorting out the waste in one fell swoop.

why no entrepreneurs have developed machinery for sorting out all the different types of waste “. Maybe because there was no profit in it. China, and we, appear to do it by hand. I don’t know how the different types of plastics could be sorted automatically.

Maybe part of the solution is to minimise the number of materials used for general packaging to make segregation easier. But for any private enterprise to deal with it requires a profit – either from the sale of recovered material and/or from subsidy.

Lessismore says:
9 January 2018

You’ve forgotten your low energy lightbulbs! I keep a carrier bag of these hanging in a cupboard and when there are enough I take them to a local Sainsbury’s with a Recolight recycling bank in the car park. I find it a nuisance that the Council website does not list all the recycling banks at the supermarkets and other places in towns and villages which are a lot more accessible to many people. As you enter the store there are the Carrier Bag (and other stretchy plastics) recycling and Batteries recycling. Since so much of our packaging comes from the supermarket it seems very logical to take it back. Too many people are not aware that there is a big difference between KERBSIDE recycling which the Councils provide for us and which is limited to their contracts and all the other ways we can recycle or better still reuse.

However long before Recycle in the Waste Hierarchy certainly now in our household is Refuse (that carrier bag, that hanger) followed by Reduce (not buying more than we need which is easier when it isn’t bagged!) Reuse & Repurpose (what’s wrong with using a large flowerpot for shoes?) Repair (there are interesting Repair Cafes or ReStart where you can get help in repairing favourite items not to mention an increase in sewing clubs and website help both with repairs and with electrical replacement parts . Listings of where you can get repairs to clothing and furniture and electronics is very valuable and often not easily found.)

We still don’t know why some supermarkets package for example ginger in plastic – Coop & Sainsbury’s when Morrisons and M&S don’t. The Coop package their aubergine in plastic but Sainsbury’s uses just a sticker.

The Mayor of London is providing some grants for water fountains and refill stations. It would be good to see these in all Leisure Centres, Universities etc so that it aids those wanting to refill their water bottles. Take a look at what was discussed at The Commons Environmental Audit Committees recently both on plastic bottles and on single use coffee cups. It is on their twitter feed and on their website: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/inquiry/

We have to redress all the heavy marketing and lobbying that goes on to cover everything in plastic and increase sales whilst not taking enough responsibility for making it easy for the disposal of packaging. We want minimal packaging for safe transport. We need packaging where it is necessary to change and to keep on changing and to encourage and embrace new and better packaging – where necessary!

I agree it would be good to highlight the packaging we find difficult to deal with. Also the Councils whose info is difficult to follow – eg with fewer Recycling Officers the message “Check Local Recycling” isn’t very helpful.

Some councils have sorting machines at their materials recycling facility (MRF).

Devon Contract Waste has a Zero to Landfill process:

There is an interesting film at the bottom of the article or see it here:

It appears 85-90% goes for re-processing,10-15% ends up going to produce energy and 0% goes to landfill.

There are impressive sorting installations like this but I think the point was – mine anyway – that they are crude separators, and the important issue of, for example, sorting plastics into types for possible reuse, rather than to burn, is not addressed.

I wonder if we could not standardise the composition of plastics used for storage and packaging, minimise the number of different types and colours allowed to be used, and mark the products – maybe a colour code – in a way that can be identified automatically. Maybe all bottles could be clear PET for example, unless the contents are light sensitive and then standardise the dark colour. Maybe CPET (Crystallised PET) food trays could be sorted for recycling rathere than burning or landfill – WRAP have worked on adding markers to the black colourant to see if optical sorting could be used. http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/recyclability-black-plastic-packaging-0.

However, I wonder why we need to use packaging that we also cook in; better to transfer to our own reusable metal trays or tins perhaps.

Great minds think alike malcolm. I was going to write something similar.

Canned goods almost come in standard sized tins irrespective of brand with paper labels setting them apart from other brands.

We need something similar for food plastics. I also wondered about using the same colour for similar plastic categories.

I have just checked some of the plastics in my kitchen – 05 PP, 1 PET, 01 PET, 2 HDPE, Triangle PS, just a triangle or nothing.

Sauce bottles hide their triangle under the lid, one product specified what the container and lid are but didn’t actually put the symbol on the lid.

If these symbols were used properly, there would be no need to chop everything up first. Machines should be able to identify and separate them.

Film, crisp, nut and other similar packaging cannot be recycled and this also needs standardising into something that can be recycled.

We buy cottage pies that are a sloppy mess if microwaved. But frozen then transferred to a china or pyrex dish and cooked in the oven they are much nicer. Trying to find same size containers is not easy though.

“Film, crisp, nut and other similar packaging” is what I have been referring to as ‘metallised paper’ [the stuff that doesn’t scrunch up] and I see no need for it in most cases. Obviously it looks smart and shiny and makes the brand stand out on the shelves but it is no more protective than a suitable paper. It might have a moisture protection property for things like biscuits but that should not be an issue in centrally heated homes and a ready availability of sealable containers. I would be quite happy for biscuits to be loose in biscuit tins – getting them out of those foil compartmented trays is usually quite a fiddle. It’s all about marketing and presentation rather than the protection of the environment. I think from memory that strips of cardboard were used to separate biscuits in tins before the foil trays came in. Was there a breakage problem in those days? I don’t think so. I think there is more risk of breakage these days as the metal biscuit tin has largely been replaced with cardboard that gets mishandled during the delivery and stacking process.

Lessismore says:
10 January 2018

It would be interesting to hear how people reuse some packaging to get more use out of it once they have accepted it into their home or office rather than simply the “get rid” attitude to it which may or may not mean it gets recycled. Filing sleeves?

Lessismore says:
10 January 2018

I reuse some of those crisp/nut type plasticised foil bags as liners for a bathroom non-recyclable waste bin.

What I don’t understand is how they are listed as one of the most common recycling mistakes in a previous convo. Why and how have we come to the point where people no longer realise what it is or what is happening around us. Reminds me of an amusing WI protest or two tens of years ago too about unnecessary packaging! Crisp packets were part of the Scrunch Test when we were recycling aluminium foil for Blue Peter or Guide Dogs for the Blind tens of years ago. Shouldn’t this be something that all children learn when they learn about materials?

I have a few of these mustard glasses that I bought when in France. They come with plastic lids so perfect for drinking or storing something in the fridge. More packaging needs a secondary use.

I have a large plastic crate full of small boxes and tins. These often come in useful.

I don’t mind buying over-packaged goods providing that I can see a definite use for the packaging. I recently bought two large tins of Christmas shortbread and when I get round to eating it the tins will be useful for storage. Unlike plastic boxes, metal tins don’t deteriorate with age.

I keep a small stock of bubble-wrap, foam sheet and other packaging materials. I keep Christmas cards until the following year, and for at least 20 years I have been using a box that contained software disks and a couple of manuals.

There comes a point, quite quickly, when you have more jars and tins than you can use, so we are back to waste. although you can store smaller tins inside bigger ones…….I have a dozen or so small rectangular tins with hinged lids that held extra strong mints. I keep one in each of the cars filled with coins primarily for parking charges. Others may go into the garage to store odds and ends but they are of limited use as you can’t see inside without opening; I prefer those small stacks of clear plastic drawers.

When I posed the original question of why someone somewhere hasn’t devised a sorting machine, yet, I wasn’t thinking of a large scale recycling enterprise but rather of a proof of concept device. Britain used to be a nation of inventors, and there are still plenty of young (and older) minds seeking challenges.

So here’s a suggestion: Which? offers a £100,000 award to the inventor of the first workable machine that can successfully and unfailingly sort, separate and clean glass, five types of plastic, metal, cardboard, food, batteries, various chemicals, cans and cartons from ten bins full of unsorted garbage. Which? would own the patent, and the money made from licensing it would more than repay the investment needed.

Various prizes have been offered to anyone who comes up with a successful perpetual motion machine. Your challenge is slightly easier but it’s tricky and might need some deep thought to separate 42 varieties of waste.

I certainly don’t underestimate the difficulty of such a task, but I also appreciate the degree of motivation a hefty prize can engender. And for Which? it’s almost watertight in several respects: if it can’t be done, then they lose nothing, but in either case they gain with publicity, good feeling, and possibly financial backing from increasing membership, and if it can be done they’re quids in. The fabled ‘no lose’ situation.

Fair enough but an alternative approach would be a series of challenges, starting with those that are more achievable, or maybe an intermediate challenge such as being able to separate different types of plastic reliably.

I’m still struggling with converting base metals into gold. 🙂

I can’t find it now, but I came across a recycling sorter for the kitchen that would probably be built-in like a dish-washer. It was the same size as a dish-washer.

You put your item in a drop-down hopper, and the machine sorted it into the right compartment for you.

I did think it was intended for lazy people with more money than common sense though.

I think we have to come up with waste disposal solutions that do not require people to do much sorting at home, do not need additional domestic apparatus, space and the use of electricity, and don’t end up with even more outside bins. The whole lot, including much that still goes in the general rubbish bin, should go to large-scale materials recycling facilities where people sort it all out and make the best of what they have got. I can’t believe having people do it is more expensive than having huge and complex machinery – that can still be used for the secondary sorting after the primary separation of wastes has been done. It’s indoor work, no more unpleasant than many other jobs, might appeal to prisoners or people on community service orders, and could yield considerable benefits.

I use a two compartment bin to segregate waste that can go in either the recycling bin (large compartment) or belongs in non-recyclable waste. Compostable waste goes in a separate container. Although I’m methodical about sorting waste I had a polite notice indicating that I had put something in the wrong bin. I assume that the deed had been done by a visitor unfamiliar with what can be recycled in this area. If the government is committed to increasing recycling it must demand that councils adopt uniform procedures.

We had just such a centre at our local Tesco. Unfortunately people abused it by not putting their waste into the containers provided and strewing it all over the site. After years of this they have given up and removed the facility.

Before we had recycling bins I used to use the recycling bins at the local Tesco store. One day the bins had gone and customer services told me that they had been removed because of misuse. I suggested they took down the sign directing people to where the bins used to be and they did this promptly. Thankfully we were provided with recycling bins by the council. In areas where glass is not permitted in recycling bins (for reasons of safety I understand) there are still glass bins in supermarket car parks or at the roadside.

I think much of the ‘misuse’, i.e. stuff left around the containers, is due to them being full up and not emptied frequently enough.

That’s certainly a factor but in the case I mentioned the problem was contaminated waste, according to what I was told by Tesco. That was years ago.

I visited a roadside glass recycling point twice around Christmas and could see evidence of misuse of the glass bins. The bin provided for disposal of bags and boxes was also overflowing with waste clothing.

When I had builders I offered to put waste cardboard in my recycling bin they said it was OK because they would put it in the skip. 🙁

Lessismore says:
14 January 2018

I like these containers. Another one was Nutella chocolate and hazelnut spread. I found the glasses with lids really good to keep on the bedside but you do need to make sure that the lids are marked so that you/and others eg carers don’t throw them away. I also found that the lid from the “iconic and unrecyclable” Pringles carton fitted a mug or glass. It would be good if more glasses/mugs had the same circumference so that you can find lids to fit!

Lessismore says:
14 January 2018

My father always kept nails and screws etc with a drop of oil in screw top glass peanut butter jars on a wooden rack he’d made. His system worked better than my set of plastic drawers made for the purpose (as I’ve recently discovered). See through plastic camera film canisters were also very good.

Lessismore says:
16 January 2018

I was under the impression that there is optical sorting equipment for the rigid type plastics. There are fewer used nowadays – PVC has all but disappeared and a lot of yoghurt type pots which were made out of polystyrene (PS) now seem to be made out of polypropylene (PP).

Plastic film gets tangled up in equipment and causes expensive down time in the machinery. It is also difficult to tell what it is made out of although polyethylene is stretchy.

Black plastic is supposed to be too difficult for the optical sorting equipment to read to sort and WRAP has been working to find a different dye that can be read. I’m sure that there is more on the WRAP website.

I have a collection of sugar basins that are handy for storing food in the fridge. I use plastic caps from cartons of nuts.

I completely agree with having a convo about packaging, and Which should set an example by not using plastics.
We have been thinking of getting a sodastream but are equally concerned by the use of metals for the gas cannisters. Not to mention the water goes flat quickly.
We are planning to buy loose leaf tea to remove the minute plastic particles in tea bags.

If the carbonated water is adequately fizzy but goes flat, this is because the cap on the bottle is not providing an effective seal. That may be because of a damaged seal or cap, or the rim of the bottle is chipped. I’m not aware that the metals used to make gas cartridges are a problem. They only come into contact with dry carbon dioxide.

Lessismore says:
14 January 2018

These gas cannisters are refillable aren’t they? http://www.sodastream.co.uk/gas-cylinder/gas-exchange/

Also, can’t we stop using polystyrene for packaging? (It does have it uses elsewhere.) Let’s tax it too where it isn’t necessary.

I bought an electrical item yesterday and some of the packaging was made of moulded cardboard instead of polystyrene. The rest was the cardboard box and plastic bags. The whole lot is accepted for recycling by Edinburgh Council.

We talk a lot about takeaway drinks, but what about takeaway food? Both can come in PS containers and it isn’t necessary.

Shredded cardboard is often used instead of polystyrene also and much better for the environment. Polystyrene beads and nuts go into my bean bag as it keeps going flat.

We don’t get takeaway pizza, but millions of pizza boxes must go to landfill as they are not clean enough for recycling. Someone needs to come up with a future use for them.

Unfortunately, recyclable materials are often contaminated with food and other waste, making them less valuable or even useless for recycling.

I was delighted the first time I found cardboard instead of polystyrene used for packaging fragile goods. Polystyrene can be recycled but I don’t know of any council that allows it to be put in recycling bins.

Our council allows plastic bags to be put in the recycling bin but not bubble-wrap.

Each time I visit the highlands of Scotland I have to remember that glass – one of the easiest materials to recycle – must not go in the recycling bin, for safety reasons.

Contaminated waste can be washed – as we do before we put plastics, for example, in the recycling bin. Contamination applies to paper, cardboard, metal (cans for example) and glass (sauce for example) as well. Such materials are also often printed or painted – more contaminants. We can deal with such stuff.

Landfill is not a solution – apart from blighting the landscape it is finite. Shipping our problems to other countries is not acceptable either, and is clearly no longer a long term solution unless we start polluting Africa instead.

Set up our own recycling facilities (perhaps the government could take this on) and look at better and lesser packaging solutions. As a trivial example, why, when I buy a pair of shoelaces, do they come enclosed by a plastic bubble on a cardboard backing? I’d be quite happy to accept them with their paper label holding them together.

Many of us do wash what we put in our recycling bins but some don’t even segregate their waste properly. The local council provided a local charity with a recycling bin and it was used for everything from non-recyclable waste to bags of dog waste. Now all waste is put in with general waste, though our volunteers do take home recyclable glass and plastics to put in their home bins. The bin collectors take a peek for inappropriate waste but they cannot see what is below the surface.

Recycling needs to be properly organised, maybe better than at present. That does not stop progress being made.

A good start would be to standardise on what can be put in recycling bins, across all councils. Earlier in this Convo, Alfa asked about which plastic recycling codes were acceptable and the council did not know. Not all plastics are marked with a resin identification code (1 for PET, etc) but that can be made mandatory.

Sticking a reference chart to the inside of the lid of recycling bins would maximise the chance of avoiding contamination with plastics that cannot currently be handled. Some councils stick them on top but they can fade and become damaged.

I’m all for progress and this could have been done 20 years ago.

“I’m all for progress and this could have been done 20 years ago.”. Proper recycling could have been done much further back than 20 years. But i don’t see how that is helpful. We are where we are; clocks cannot be turned back. I suggest we need to start from now and look at constructive proposals. I only hope someone might make use of them. Otherwise such Convos appear like dustbins, some topics being recycled but many emptied into the landfill of lost ideas.

It is surprising that types of dustbins (for their contents) are not standardised, but assume this is dependent upon your local authority facilities. However, if we can send waste to China, I’m sure a local authority could move theirs to a recycler in an adjacent area. Perhaps we should start with a national plan on standardising household segregation of waste and allow access to all recycling plants.

I think I have made some constructive proposals, Malcolm. In another Conversation, I suggested standardising on bin colours across the country, but rather than replacing existing bins existing ones could be fitted with a standard colour label. Others have made similar suggestions on other forums.

There is a limit to what we as individuals can do, so hopefully Which? will take action on our behalf.

hopefully Which? will take action on our behalf.“. Exactly what we are both saying, wavechange. But where is the evidence that they have collated information on this from comments made now, and earlier, and begun to put a proposed strategy together?

This is very definitely a consumer issue, but I don’t know if Which? intends to do more than to mention the various problems associated with plastics and waste in Conversations and on the website. It would be good if all subscribers had the opportunity of influencing the priorities of Which?

I don’t know why these Convos on important topics do not influence Which? What is the point in having them, otherwise? I wonder how many more people, particularly Members, might be recruited to contribute if they felt they were developing a topic towards a constructive and effective outcome?

“Help us shape the future of Which?” was, I thought, a Convo aimed at getting real interaction between Which? and contributors. The interaction and feedback has not yet happened, despite 291 comments; still the Convo staff support it, but no one else from Which? as far as I can see. I hope it is not becoming another rudderless talking shop.

My depressing feeling on this gloomy overcast day, looking out on my bedraggled lawn that should have been cut before the winter (woe), is that Which? don’t really want to use the potential of its Membership, let alone the wider public. I do hope I am wrong, and that a sign will be given.

We see this as an important topic, but I suspect that most subscribers are more interested in devoting resources to product testing.

Which? could probably review the published information and publicly support measures such as alternatives to single-use coffee cups and water bottles and find ways of engaging with its supporters. Look at how successful Which? campaigns relating to energy prices and problems with banking are attracting interest. I can see considerable opportunity for taking this (usually) superficial support further and making a real impact.

Maybe Which? could start a campaign to encourage us to write to our councils to push for them to work together to standardise on what materials can be put in recycling bins and to have standard bin colours.

If we are going to make use of our membership then I can see more scope for making progress in areas that everyone can understand and relate to.

I happen to think that all waste bins should be black [or dark grey] with just the lids in different colours. The UK looks a hideous mess with a kaleidoscope of coloured bins outside so many properties. More should be done to provide smaller bins for people who don’t generate as much waste as large families.

Something else that would be worth considering banning is plastic drinking straws. These are becoming an environmental nuisance as they do not degrade quickly and can cause problems for animals and birds, and possibly fish as well; they also end up in the sea along with all the other plastic waste that gets discarded into rivers and on the beach. There is no need to use plastic as paper or other degradable material is satisfactory for a short-life single-use item.

I have discovered that we have a packet of multi-coloured plastic drinking straws in a kitchen cupboard. The packet hasn’t been opened because there is a half-used pack of paper straws there as well. We don’t need the plastic straws but how should we now dispose of them? Green bin [rubbish] or black bin [recyclables]?

Plastic straws are one of those innovations we would be better without. Until products or their packaging are marked with the relevant recycling code and councils come up with a definitive list explaining what can go in the recycling bin, none of us will be any the wiser. It’s the last straw.

Hi @malcolm-r and @wavechange, thanks for the suggestions on what Which? can do here. We’re certainly interested to see how these issues perform amongst members and the wider public, it’s great to see the discussion develop here and all of the great ideas that have been put forward so far. We have dipped into these issues in recent years, last Spring we ran a survey to inform a Magazine investigation in ton recycling issues, the investigation was carried out by Sarah Ingrams for the June 2017 magazine. Sarah produced this news story too – https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/05/are-you-rubbish-at-recycling/

I can’t say for sure whether this could form a campaign area for us, there are lots of great organisations out there working on these issues and it’s also well covered in the news too. One organisation that is doing really good work in this area is WRAP – http://www.wrap.org.uk/ . I hope you appreciate that there are a lot of consumer issues that keep us very busy at Which? and we try and pick up as many issues as we can. While we may not run a flagship campaign on an issue we can still look to cover them on Convo, on which.co.uk and in our magazines. If there’s something that any of you would like to write about then we can certainly see what we can do 🙂

Hi Lauren – I can understand why this is not an obvious campaign issue though perhaps Which? could push for councils to standardise on bin colours and what we should put in them. It would also be useful to promote good practice regarding better/less packaging where this would fit into reports.

Which? is best known for product reviews and I would love to see reviews that ask us if we can justify buying replacements. For example, an expensive smart TV that no longer has working apps can have the functionality restored with the aid of a small plug-in accessory.

I would certainly like to contribute something in future but I have a lot on at the moment.

Lessismore says:
10 January 2018

Agree that the polystyrene from takeaway food is a problem. Too much of it is littered. This could be avoided and there are some good corrugated cardboard solutions and eggbox style cardboard solutions out there I’m sure. Hasn’t it been banned in other countries? Many plastic tubs eg yoghurt ones are no longer made out of extruded polystyrene but of polypropylene. Perhaps all of it should be.

Lessismore says:
11 January 2018

I would like to see info on the ease of getting replacement parts for items that Which does product reviews for. For instance my latest kettle was a Best Buy from Asda but I haven’t yet worked out how to buy a replacement filter for it. Other kettles in my life (ie not necessarily mine) I have been able to easily find and replace the filters on.

More info on how to maintain household appliances in good working order – or perhaps better presentation of this – would be good too. It is usually hard enough with some appliances just getting to grip with all the functions when they are new.

Thanks for the feedback, Lessismore. I’ll share that with the reviews teams.

Have you heard of repair cafes before? There might be one near you – https://therestartproject.org/ or https://repaircafe.org/en/about/

Its from Asda, what do you expect?

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The best limescale filter I have seen in a kettle was a non-removable stainless steel filter in a Breville kettle. It was easy to clean using a stiff brush.

Lessismore says:
13 January 2018

Yes, the plastic filters have a very fine plastic mesh which you definitely can’t brush and which I managed to destroy with my vinegar and water mix – and probably just touching it. 🙁 It’s outrageous that working kettles should end up having to be recycled just because the filter no longer works. Maybe what is needed is a home for retired filterless kettles in a soft water area! It’s a shame that the electrical shops neither stock nor offer any information to customers on where to buy replacement filters. I was harangued for ordering one the other day for a stainless steel kettle but it is substantially cheaper than a new kettle. The painful bit is that the cost of postage is almost the same as the price of the filter. The satisfaction of having a kettle working as good as new again is brilliant. I just need to find some extra energy to have another attempt to sort out the Asda one and to tackle an electrical shop or two. This is something Which? could do!

If the filter is removable, soak it in a little vinegar to remove the limescale. If not, you could pack round it with kitchen paper soaked in vinegar.

My solution for cleaning the filter is to boil water, add the descaler as instructed and then empty the descaling solution through the spout, which should descale the filter.

The problem with plastic filters is that the filter itself may deteriorate after a couple of years and trying to clean it will destroy the weakened mesh – as you have found, Lessismore. I don’t mind not having a filter because I descale my kettle regularly, but with some models, it is essential for the filter to be in place for the automatic shut-off to work promptly.

Next time I buy a kettle I will look for one with a permanent (stainless steel) filter.

Lessismore says:
14 January 2018

We need to make an effort to say when we go to the pub or restaurant that we don’t want a plastic straw in that soft drink – before it is put it in – and it’s hard work to pre-empt that! Adding plastic straws is new and unnecessary.

Lessismore says:
14 January 2018

I haven’t tried that but I’ve tried dropping the filter into the hot water/descaling mix in the kettle but may have left it in too long. The top of the kettle and spout can need scale cleaning off it as well as the inside below the top water level line. 🙁

A little undiluted liquid descaler or a concentrated solution made from crystals can be painted on the difficult areas round the spout and lid with a brush and washed off when they have done their job. People who live in soft water areas don’t have these hassles.

The Intro says “the UK Recycling Association saying that the UK cannot deal with that much waste. . “So it needs to increase its resources; hardly an insuperable problem. It may need to be subsidised of course as the resultant product may not repay the capital cost and the labour involved in treating plastic waste. This is where I’d propose putting a tax on packaging, at source, to cover the shortfall in recycling costs, and to encourage the packaging suppliers to use materials that can be usefully recycled – into packaging again perhaps. We will, of course, end up footing the bill but, as consumers, we have a voice in packaging and maybe we should use it. Through the Consumers’ Association perhaps? 🙂

Here is an encouraging report regarding the use of deposits to encourage recycling, which I can remember from my childhood. The UK could have taken a lead on getting this started but we will have to play catch-up with the leaders, assuming that we stop consultations and discussions and take action.

It depends what use is put to the returned bottles. No mention of reusing them, for example, as used to happen with pop bottles – 3d each when I was little. Even glass beer (and lager, cider) bottles are no longer returnable; so chuck them in the waste.

More examples like this could fuel a constructive recycling Convo if Which? were interested in making a project out of this. Any chance Alex, @awhittle?

One of the problems with reusing bottles and jars is that they may have been used to store toxic chemicals, such as garden pesticides. I have seen plenty of examples because people ask me for advice. The problem is that certain chemicals can enter the matrix of plastics and even after washing could contaminate food. Commercial recycling of glass bottles may well be practical because they can be subjected to high temperatures and aggressive detergents.

That’s a great idea, Malcolm. The environment is very close to my heart and it would be great if we could do our part to help. I like the idea of a Convo offering tips on how to recycle. Leave this with me and I will see if this is something we can look into.


@awhittle Alex, I think malcolm also suggested a convo on how manufacturers could improve products to produce less waste.

Thanks Alfa 🙂

I agree Alfa. The problem needs to be tackled at its source.

Lessismore says:
9 January 2018

Such a shame that it was the milkman’s up to 10x reusable glass bottle and delivery and pick up system (together with other shopping so valuable to the elderly and infirm) and community involvement that was sacrificed to make the plastic bottle recyclable.

Hi @malcolm-r is this something that you’d be interested in writing about?

@ldeitz, hello Lauren and thanks for your invitation to write something. Here are initial thoughts.

If you mean introducing another “conventional” Convo, then I think not as I am no expert in this field; I simply have views on certain aspects and amateurish suggestions as do a number of others who contribute. And we already have this Convo as a general discussion forum.

However, I do see packaging waste and plastics in particular as a significant consumer issue and one that I believe Which? should be directly involved in. I think working on this problem is just as important to consumers as other campaigns – pollution for example.

Reducing plastic waste begins with reducing the amount of packaging needed in the first place.

I would therefore suggest Which? promote not just a discussion, but a project with a defined objective so that what is discussed is turned into constructive proposals for how to make progress on waste packaging.

My suggestion would be that a small working party is formed from Which?, WRAP (if they are interested) and a small number of volunteers from the Membership (or others) – I think Convo regulars might be a source of interested and constructive contributors?

I’d suggest we focus on looking at how we might reduce the amount of packaging and its materials to make less demand on recycling and disposal, and to make separation into material types simpler, particularly plastics, to aid reuse.

I’d suggest beginning with a sort of “working” Convo, but entitled “Suggest how to reduce packaging waste”, with an intro that simply asks for:
Examples of excessive packaging
Examples of inappropriate packaging
Examples of non-essential packaging
Suggestions to reduce packaging
Suggestions to change the material, or standardise the type of material, used.

I’d moderate the responses to those that are constructive and reject those that simply “rant” – the objective being to collate as many useful views as possible to see if we can agree on sensible and practical ways forward.

The Working party could then, if enough useful examples and proposals are received, put suggestions through which? to the packaging industry and major retailers for example, to see if and how suggestions might be implemented.

I second those suggestions malcolm.

We are all consumers, Which? is the main consumer body for the UK, and we all have a responsibility to reduce packaging and waste.

In addition to looking at examples of excessive packaging etc, some of which are well documented, there is the opportunity for improved education to encourage consumers to choose products that minimise waste, for example to buy loose mushrooms in a paper bag rather than a plastic container covered in film. Not only does that save resources but the product will last longer.

I would like a group to include contributors such as Lessismore, who has a strong interest in decreasing waste, judging by contributions to this and other Conversations.

I should have also suggested we ask for examples of good packaging to be submitted.

It’s also worth appreciating the importance of packaging for protecting goods, reducing waste and extending the period that they remain saleable.

> Meat packaged in film-coated plastic trays in a protective atmosphere both retains an attractive appearance (important to encourage sale) and the exclusion of oxygen helps delay spoilage.

> Soft fruit is easily damaged and requires protection. Wooden and card punnets have been replaced by film-coated plastic trays, presumably because the shelf-life is longer.

> Larger ripe fruit such as peaches is so easily damaged that it is sold in cradle packs to afford maximum protection. Is this necessary when it is easy to ripen fruit at home?

> Crisps are sold in bags made of metallised-plastic film to exclude oxygen, helping to reduce rancidity of the vegetable oil. That is not essential but has allowed longer storage dates.

My example of good packaging is the banana. The wrapper is fully biodegradable and it is designed to allow to unpeel and the contents to be consumed without being touched by hand. The design has been copied to produce various products such as the wrapping of sterile hypodermic syringes used in hospitals, although not these do not benefit from having a biodegradable wrapper.

I would like a campaign objective to be to ban the use of phrases along the lines of “sometimes recyclable” on packaging.

If something is recyclable, there should be no question that it be permitted in the recycling bin. If the specific local council cannot process it themselves, then they must transfer it to a council that can and not just reject it. This will speed up the development of technology to enable rapid identification and separation of the different materials involved [although the product branding will soon become familiar enough and facilitate easy manual sorting which seems to be a feature of MRF’s, albeit mainly for the rejection of un-recyclable material].

I think consumers should be able to put any plastic item in the recycling bin and it be the local council’s duty to reprocess it or reuse it. As Alfa suggested the other day, we could make wheelie bins from recycled plastic rather than buy them from the Germans. Is it out of the question that the poles on which small traffic signs are mounted could not be made from recycled plastic? There must be many other potential uses.

I agree with you John. Everything that is recyclable should be accepted and processed.

I have always put the pumps from soap dispensers in the recycling but I see they are a no-no now. Why? Most of it is plastic with a small metal coil inside, all recyclable material.

I would hope traffic cones are made from recycled materials, there are enough of them.

Yes, I think the heavy-weight traffic cones that run for miles on the motorways are largely made from rubber waste, but the millions of others used by the police, councils and contractors are usually plastic and there is no reason why they cannot be made of recycled plastic, surely. Perhaps they are; there are none around here that I can check.

Alfa – The problem with the pumps from soap dispensers and sprays is that they contain mixed materials. There is the metal spring and the rest is made of one or more types of plastic. The pump may still contain a good dollop of what was in the bottle.

The pump is easy enough to rinse to remove most of the soap. But the point is, they are probably all recyclable materials that are not being recycled.

We have bought a couple of Simplehuman soap dispensers, and love them. You just put your hand underneath and the soap is dispensed, no drips and no mess. You can even measure the amount that comes out. Soap comes in a pouch and batteries are supposed to last 6 months. So probably better from a recycling point of view as batteries are supposed to be 100% recyclable.

Cones made of recycled plastic are certainly available and can be found on websites. I have no idea what proportion of those in use are made of recycled material.

I obtained some plastic board through a local farmer to replace weatherproof plywood that had deteriorated. The board is made of recycled plastic and is rather more flexible than plywood but it has outlasted the original plywood and shows no sign of deterioration. Recycled plastic is being used in a variety of outdoor applications such as benches. It’s not very attractive but should be durable.

We should refill soap dispensers and not throw the gadget away. We repeatedly refill a spray bottle with Flash (there are other cleaners) and water to clean round the house.

Alfa – I do understand your point but in many cases, mixed materials make recycling difficult. Even having some of the wrong type of plastic in a load of waste will result in recycled plastics of variable and possibly inferior plastic.

Some efforts has been made to minimise use of mixed plastics. The same plastic is used for milk bottles and their lids, whereas many bottles still use different plastics.

At one time I had decent quality soap dispensers and bought hand-wash in ordinary bottles rather than ones with a pump dispenser. It’s become difficult to get hand-wash without anti-bacterial and other additives, never mind finding them in large refill bottles.

I’ll have a look at the refill pouches you mention.

You can recycle the metal springs!!