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What plastics does your council recycle?

Ball of recycled plastics

Recycling of plastics boomed in 2009, and it wasn’t only the good old plastic bottles that councils were collecting – yoghurt pots and margarine tubs also made the cut. But does your council take them?

In a perfect world, recycling your waste would mean throwing anything that’s not food waste into one bin without any hassle. Yet, in reality we have to be careful, picking and choosing what to place in our bins based on our individual council’s capabilities.

Paper, cans, glass, and even aerosol cans have been happily accepted by local authorities. But when it comes to plastic, it’s often been a little limited.

Plastic bottles have been the sole polymer taken by many recycling schemes, with others, like bags, ready-meal food trays, margarine tubs and yoghurt pots not getting any love. This is mainly due to the difficulty of sorting and separating them from each other.

The plastic recycling revolution

However, last year saw what some campaigners have called a ‘recycling revolution’ as 40,000 tonnes of mixed plastics were collected. This is up by almost 50% over 2008, according to figures released by recycling charity Recoup. And it’s not just down to more of us getting involved, it’s due to local councils increasing facilities to recycle plastic items that weren’t previously accepted.

There was apparently a 78% growth in the number of councils collecting mixed plastics, meaning over 6.5m household can now do so. But that’s still a long way off the 23m households that currently put out bottles. So the question is – does your council recycle all plastics?

Now, I was absolutely convinced that my council did – the little pictures on their pink recycling bags certainly seemed to give that impression. However, as I prepared to write this Conversation I popped onto my council’s website and found that their handy chart only featured plastic bottles. D’oh. Have I been clogging up their machines, or forfeiting my household’s many bags of recycling over these past years? I sure hope not.

Does your council only recycle bottles?

So you may also think that your council only accepts bottles – but are you sure? When we last asked you whether you knew what went into your recycling, 76% of you said not only did you know, but that you knew due to your council being good at informing you.

In the comments, both Richard and Dave W told us that the only plastics their councils recycled were bottles without caps. But even though I’ve been unlucky to discover the same, I wouldn’t be so sure, especially since councils are making such a big move towards recycling mixed plastics. So, does your council recycle plastic tubs, pots and trays, or are you restricted to only throwing out bottles?


The major proportion of my normal “non-recyclable” household rubbish is plastic, I can recycle plastic bottles – I need to carry them to a recycling centre though.

I do feel that the first goal in increasing the amount we do recycle is a culture change and this is happening.
However there is a danger that the problems of mixed plastic recycling will have a negative affect on recycling in general , with different schems and rules in each area.
So we need a system of encouraging the recycling of all plastic for the general public even if it isnt cost effective at present for the local authorities.

I completely agree – My council only recycles – standard paper – metal cans and a few types of plastic bottles.

My actual refuse is plastic products and wrappings especially plastic padded envelopes (I do not throw away food – dog dustbins!) It is far more than I recycle.

The problem is virtually no method of identifying the various plastics so none is recycled

Sophie Gilbert says:
15 December 2010

I agree, plastic is the biggest problem of the lot, it seems. I am aware of only two types of plastic products being recycled in Edinburgh at the moment, drink bottles and carrier bags (the latter by supermarkets themselves). I find this rather pitiful considering the sheer number of other plastic products I end up by having to throw away with my normal rubbish, eg bottle tops, margarine tubs, fruit and veg punnets, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. I try to minimise the amount of plastic I buy in the first place, but it isn’t always easy.

I’m constantly confused by what plastic is acceptable to put in my recycling bin and what isn’t, despite the fact that my council (Southwark) is actually very good at communicating about recycling with leaflets etc. I’m pretty sure I sometimes put plastics in that they can’t recycle – imagine the nightmare at the sorting end – this must cause so much extra work and resource.

New Zealand has a much clearer system – all plastic packaging is given a number. When you go to a recycling depot the bins are clearly marked with numbers so you can see what’s allowed to go in, and at home the recycling bins have the same. Why can’t we have this kind of system?

Pickle says:
16 December 2010

My Council recycles glass, paper, metal containers and plastics -but only plastics with the triangle mark, and no tops
There is a private recycling scheme which recycles plastic milk bottle tops as well.
council literature is helpful too and explains what they can recycle.

Pauline Hopkins says:
24 December 2010

Our council give us a printed leaflet of what recyling they take.
They take some splastics but not all. Tetra packs = yoghursts etc
they do not take. Platic trays from supermarkets are not recycleable,
That seems to get more each week. My actual recycling has gone
down becuase the manufacturers and councils do not take such a lot.
Paper fine. Fruit juice cartons – No.!!!!! Plastics with the recyle mark only.
Paper yes and carboard yes, but large bits must be flattened and tied up
and placed next to rycle bin.

Why do we bother. Perhaps the manufacturers need to provide more
disposable goods.

Sometimes I wonder why i bother.

Until last year I wasn’t aware of any reprocessing plants within the UK that could process mixed plastics. This is the reason many local authorities won’t or didn’t collect these as there wasn’t a local market for them, indeed they would of had to have been sent outside of the UK for processing. The difficulty in doing this the audit trail becomes harder if not impossible to follow and the materials might end up in a landfil in China. Obviously this isn’t acceptable and why many local authorities simply didn’t collect mixed plastics

Josh Bray says:
28 December 2011

Sorting plastics by polymer is easy using Infrared Technology, it uses different absorbtion patterns to sort the types. And my council collect all types of mixed plastics including bottles, tubs, trays, pots and rigid plastic packaging along with Paper, Cardboard, Metals, Tetrapaks and glass.