What can you recycle?

21 SEPTEMBER, 2022


recycling logo

What can you recycle? Can hard plastic be recycled? Does greasy cardboard ruin the whole truck load of recycling? We aim to answer these questions and more in this blog.


Generations ago the produce that we ate was close at hand, the fish direct from the sea to plate the vegetables from the garden or a local producer a few miles away. But as cities have expanded along with population sizes the way we shop has changed. Along with the advent of the supermarkets has come packaging. It’s essential for supermarkets to keep food fresh for as long as possible - a good thing as that reduces food waste. However, with it has come the inevitable packaging.


 So, at the beginning of recycling week, where we are rightly encouraged to recycle everything (check out the circular economy as applauded by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org and the multinational NGO WRAP https:// www.wrap.org  I am just going to talk about plastic recycling.


Why? because plastic is what we at An’du are doing our bit to reduce (as well as giving you fabulous looking hair).



The world produces 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging each year.

Around a third of all plastic packaging put on the global market leaks from collection systems polluting the environment.

Plastic product, use and disposal contributes to about 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually *

It is estimated that an average of 35.6 million plastic bottles are used EVERY DAY in the UK, but only 19.8 million are recycled each day.  

This means there are on average 16 million plastic bottles a day are not making their way into the recycling bin. **

Recycling has its limitations. It is difficult to recycle plastic to ‘food grade’ needed for food packing and plastic recycling is not infinite. After about 4-5 cycles the plastic degrades to such an extent that it can no longer be recycled.

Looking to the future, WRAP has written a paper on non-mechanical recycling, this breaks the molecular bonds in the plastic which is then reformed back into virgin quality polymer chains - meaning degradation of the plastic is no longer a problem. Non mechanical recycling is however a long way off, there is no UK plant currently in commercial use and there are many obstacles ahead of it. Chemical recycling also needs energy to recycle and also produces its own waste products. If you are interested I urge you to read the very interesting article on in produced by WRAP - stating their position on non-chemical recycling here


So there are the facts, what can we do about it?

First, don’t feel overwhelmed, no one can fix it by themselves. We all have to do our bit, but so do companies and governments. It can be difficult for companies to introduce green goals if they are expensive so reducing their competitive edge. Sometimes it needs the government to legislate giving the business a level playing field.

One such legislation is the new ‘plastic tax, introduced in April this year, taxing companies if their plastic packaging   does not have a minimum of 30% recycled plastic in it. So when you see supermarkets lauding their use of recycled plastic in their packaging - that can be taken in the context that it is also financially better for them to do so.

The Scottish government has introduced a ban on single use plastic starting from August 2022, it is now illegal in Scotland to use single use plates, straws***, cups and lids, cutlery, balloon sticks***, stirrers and take away containers made from expanded polystyrene

All the big UK supermarkets have a section on sustainability on their websites.

Reducing the amount of plastic used in the first place, using recycled plastic to wrap shop goods and thinking about refill areas are just a few things that shops, and supermarkets can and are doing to help.

Putting pressure on them and government is probably our most effective course of action. Asking them what they are doing to help reduce plastic, asking the government what they are doing to legislate against plastic use - there is much more to be done.

 In the meantime, while we mull over government and business responsibilities, and ours in chivying them along, let’s get down to the nitty gritty that we ask ourselves every week, ie. - which box does that food carton really go into and should I be putting the lids back on the plastic bottles after rinsing and before recycling them?


Your recycling questions answered 

Well, this is the bit of the article that you have all been waiting for.


rinse lid on logo

Question: Do I leave the bottle tops on - both on plastic and glass bottles?

Answer: Yes, otherwise the lids will get lost and not be recycled. Somehow (not sure how- anyone who does know please inform me - I would love to know), they take them off at the recycling plant. Check that your bottle has this logo on it as on rare occasions the lid needs to be removed. But a rule of thumb is lid on.

Question: Can I recycle my pizza packet?

Answer: No - it’s full of grease and left over food, contaminating the paper which means it can’t be recycled, what’s more if it contaminates other paper in your recycling - the whole lot has to be put to into land fill.


Question: In which box do the food and drink cartons (tetra packs) go and do I need to rip off the plastic collar and lid before recycling?

Answer: It goes in with the papers and no you don’t need to rip the plastic collar and lid off first - they do that at the recycling plant - again not sure how but they do. Only 80% of local councils accept tetra packs - see below so you can check if your area does or doesn’t take them.


Question: can you recycle plastic that has had chemicals or pesticides in it?

Answer: no - they will contaminate the other plastics.


Question: Can you recycle envelopes especially those with ‘windows’

Answer: yes you can. The glue and windows do degrade the quality of the paper, but they are still accepted by most local authorities (see below to check with your council)


Question: Can I recycle garden pots

Answer: no not in the kerb side collection boxes. Just put them at the end of your garden, repot them up with a cutting and give it to a friend (that’s for those of us lucky enough to have a garden. If you don’t there might be a local community garden which would welcome them - and you for that matter).


What can you recycle in your area?

So, with the above burning questions answered the final question is what is and what isn’t recycled in your area.

In researching this blog, I tried to find out if there are some generalisations that I could give you to make it easier, but it turns out that every council does it differently, some take food cartons, (up to 80% leaving 20% who don’t. Some have blue bins some pink, some bags some not. In most areas the green bin is for garden produce but not everywhere. 

 So, I can’t do a nationwide trawl of every area but what I can do is direct you to an excellent website:  


This site is part of WRAP and dedicated to give you a clear simple answer to recycling in your area in the UK. You pop in your post code along with what you wish to recycle, and they will tell you whether your local council takes them at kerb-side collections, along with the best way to recycle them (such as putting lids on and cleaning out containers).

 Another useful resource is the tetra pack site  


which will tell you if tetra packs are recycled in your area. However, recyclenow will also tell you that.


Soft and hard plastics

Finally, a mention of soft (or hard to recycle plastics), what are they and how to you get rid of them. 

An easy way to identify soft plastics is to use the ‘scrunch test’. If after scrunching the plastic in your hand it bounces back, then it’s soft plastic and most likely won’t be recycled at the kerb side.

Soft plastic includes plastic bags, plastic sheets that your fruit and vegetables come in, cheese wrap, frozen food bags, salad bags, rice and biscuit covers, films on ready meals, snack packets, multipack film wrap, cling film, sleeves on bottles, toiletries refill pouches, plastic films on yogurt pots.

Make sure they are all clean and dry before recycling.

They go to special recycling plants where they are often combined with wood pulp and end up as decking.

Soft plastics are all received for recycling at major supermarkets. Below is an up-to-date list of the supermarkets and which ones have soft plastic recycling points.


I found it difficult to work out if all the shops below accepted bubble wrap. Sainsbury’s was the only one that clearly stated that it took bubble wrap. The others didn’t say they did but also didn’t say they didn’t take bubble wrap.

If you know the answer, please let me know via this site or on Instagram and we will publicise the fact. Knowledge is power as they say! 


Sainsburys - have recycling of soft plastic at 100% of its stores. They make it clear that they take bubble wrap. 

Morrisons - has the ambition to recycle the equivalent amount of plastic that it uses by 2025. It will become the first supermarket to own recycling operations in a new recycling site in Fife where they will be able to recycle the ‘hard to recycle ‘ soft plastics. They have soft plastic recycling points in 100% of their stores.

Tescos - has recycling points of soft plastic in over 900 stores (7.2.2022) (100% of their large stores)

Co-op - can recycle soft plastics at over 2,200 stores across the country. Currently unable to put soft plastics blue bins in very small stores and currently have no recycling units on Scottish islands but are working towards rolling that out soon.

Asda - does a lot of recycling (clothes, batteries, etc, making their own brand packaging 100% recyclable by 2025)) all their stores have recycling points for ‘plastic carrier bags and plastic film’

Aldi - is undertaking a trial to provide 20 of its stores in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Greater Manchester to take their soft plastics back for recycling. If successful they will roll out the program.

Lidl - in October 2021 they started a trial for soft plastic recycling in 12 stores in the West Midlands, they say if successful they plan to extend the initiative nationwide.

Iceland - has fitted new soft plastic recycling bins over more than 140 of its stores in the UK.

M&S - has soft recycling bins in most M&S owned stores.


Things that CAN'T be recycled

What can’t be recycled either at kerb-side or at soft plastic recycling sites are disposable gloves or masks, compostable or biodegradable bags, polystyrene of any kind, medical blister packs (also known as dosett boxes) or general litter/ rubbish.


Recycling is not the answer

Finally, when it comes to plastic, we must realise that recycling it, while helping to reduce the problem is not the complete answer. We need to acknowledge that recycling plastic, produces carbon emissions, uses up energy and has a limited life cycle. Chemical recycling is a long way off and it too has its problems.

 Our aim therefore should be to use less plastic in the first place, recycling helps but is not the panacea to our problems.


Choosing to purchase things packaged differently is one small step that you can make. Purchasing loose fruit and vegetables in reusable bags, buying from refill shops and using plastic free shampoo and conditioner bars rather than shampoo in plastic bottles are all one small step that you can make to row gently against the plastic wave.




* https://wrap.org.uk


* *https://recyclenow.com/recycle


*** some exemptions do exist for the use of plastic straws such as use in medical conditions.




Written by Tina Grayson

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1 comment

Your comprehensive overview of plastic recycling challenges and solutions is incredibly informative. Addressing common questions about recycling , you shed light on the complexities of the process, emphasizing the collective responsibility we share. It’s heartening to see governments and businesses taking steps, but as you rightly pointed out, individual actions are crucial too.

oliver Murphy

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