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10 things you can’t put in your household recycling, by Mary O'Conner

10 things you can’t put in your household recycling, by Mary O'Conner

Recycling household products can be a simple way to help the environment - but it's not always straightforward.

McDonald's admitted earlier this month that its new "eco-friendly" paper straws were currently only fit for general waste, but it was "working to find a sustainable solution".

What are some other surprising items that you might think are commonly recycled, but that your council is very unlikely to take in your recycling collection?

Sticky notes

They might help you manage your to-do lists, but sticky notes aren't so useful when it comes to recycling.

The glue on the adhesive strip can't always be removed during the recycling process, so many centres refuse to accept them.

Chris Mills, a recycling contamination expert at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), says: "Every paper mill that accepts a range of card and paper, has a tolerance level so they can recycle a small quantity of sticky notes that might sneak in.

"But generally [people are] discouraged from recycling them because when this material gets in the pulper and it starts to separate out, the gum can appear in the final product, like streaks on a newspaper."

Toothpaste and other squeezable tubes

Toothpaste, suncream and other squeezable tubes are difficult to recycle because they combine different materials.

Toothpaste tubes can often contain a thin layer of aluminium and be made of various types of plastic - making it challenging for recycling plants to separate and process them.

"When they are made from more than one material, the recycling facility doesn't have the capacity to extract it," Mr Mills says.

Even pump-action toothpaste containers - thought to be easier to recycle - should be left out.

Mr Mills adds: "It is quite difficult for local authorities to say to households that they want a certain type of product for recycling and not others.

"Local authorities can't afford to have loads of their recyclables rejected just because of a few items, so we have to stop these materials going in."

However, Colgate is partnered with Terracycle, a firm that moulds items into new products, such as park benches, to offer a free recycling scheme for toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, outer packing and electric and battery toothbrush heads. People can recycle packaging at more than 2,000 locations across the UK.

Drinking glasses and Pyrex dishes

Unlike glass bottles and jars, drinking glasses and glass cookware, like Pyrex, are non-recyclable.

This is because they are heat-treated so do not melt at the same temperature as other glass items.

Mr Mills adds: "There's other materials in Pyrex like ceramics, and wine glasses can have lead in them, so you don't want those things in the recycling."

WRAP estimates that these glass items account for just 0.57% of total residual household waste, so there isn't currently enough of them to warrant separate recycling collections or new equipment to process it.

Paper receipts

UK retailers hand out an estimated 11.2bn paper receipts every year, but not all of them can be recycled.

The ones printed on shiny, thermal paper, are not recyclable because they are coated with a substance called bisphenol A (BPA) or bisphenol S (BPS).

These chemicals can be harmful if they are released into the environment or ingested in large quantities.

Many stores now send you an email receipt, or give you the choice of whether to take a printed receipt.

Crisp packets

Crisp packets and other metallised plastic film products like baby food pouches can't be recycled because of the grease and crisp residue that clings to them.

But crisp packets could be recycled if a separate process was made to remove the contaminants, WRAP says.

The scrunch test is a simple way of checking whether something is recyclable.

If the item springs back into shape after you have scrunched it up, then it shouldn't be recycled.

But there may be another way to get more crisp packets recycled, as snack food firm Walkers has said it will put collection points in place across the UK as part of its Terracycle partnership, so more can be turned into other plastic items.

Ella's Kitchen, the organic baby and toddler food company, also offer a free recycling programme via Terracycle for any brand of baby food pouch.

Salad bags

Pre-prepared bags of salad can't be recycled because they combine different types of plastic, making them difficult to separate and process.

Multiple plastics are used to keep the bag airtight so the salad leaves inside remain fresh.

However, supermarkets including Tesco now say their organic bagged salads are made from material that can be recycled into their 10p bags for life.

Plastic sleeves on Lucozade Sport bottles

The plastic sleeve on the Lucozade sports bottle is "impossible to recycle", according to Simon Ellin, the chief executive of the Recycling Association.

This is because it is made from a different type of plastic to the recyclable bottle, which confuses computer scanners at recycling plants.

"It has to be picked by hand off the recycling conveyor, then it often just gets chucked away," Mr Ellin says.

But soft drink manufacturer Lucozade Ribena Suntory says all Lucozade Sport bottles and the sleeve are made from 100% recyclable plastic.

It says it is working to ensure its packaging designs "allow for maximum recyclability".

Pringles tubes

Pringles tubes are said to be a "nightmare" to recycle because they combine five different materials including a metal base, tear-off foil top, a plastic lid, silver foil lining inside and a cardboard outer sleeve.

It has previously been called the "number one recycling villain" by Mr Ellin.

He says: "These are very difficult to recycle because ultimately it is more likely that it would be put into the paper or cardboard section.

"We can then extract the fibre from that, but then we end up with the metal, plastic, foil and everything else that comes with that contaminating the system, so it's a complete waste of resource."

Kelloggs, the owner of Pringles, has partnered with TerraCycle, and says it is working with the firm to set up public recycling collection points.

The UK's local-authority-based public recycling infrastructure is "complex" and Pringles tubes are "not currently recyclable at kerbside, unlike some other countries", the company says.

Kelloggs says it is exploring "producing the packaging using less natural resources" to improve sustainability.

Cotton wool and make-up removal pads

Cotton wool and make-up removal pads can't be recycled, but in some circumstances can be composted with your kitchen waste.

Wool that is 100% cotton could be added to your compost bin, but only if it has not been used to remove make-up or with chemicals such as disinfectants, as they could contaminate the compost heap.

Some cotton wools are also blended with synthetic materials, such as polyester, so would be unlikely to decompose.

If in doubt, leave it out, and put it in your general waste bin.

What about the paper straws?

McDonald's said its new paper straws are difficult to recycle because their thickness makes them difficult to process.

The fast-food giant replaced its plastic straws, which it said were 100% recyclable, in a bid to cut single use plastics damaging the natural world.

But Wales-based manufacturer Transcend Packaging has insisted the paper straws are 100% recyclable.

However, Mr Ellin says the straws are difficult to recycle because of the collection process, rather than the materials they are made from.

"In theory, straws can be recycled," he says.

"However, you are never going to capture and sort McDonald's straws in any form that would allow you to recycle them.

"You have to collect them as completely separate entity and then bale them in sufficient quantities, and then recycle them."

He says it is difficult to collect the straws separately because customers empty the whole contents of their trays in a bin.

McDonald's says while the materials the straws are made from are recyclable, "they cannot currently be processed by waste solution providers or local authorities unless they are collected separately".

The company says it is a "wider industry issue", as the infrastructure needed to recycle "has not kept pace with the emergence of paper straws".

It is working "to find a sustainable solution" and the advice to put paper straws in general waste is "temporary".


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