What to Know about Recyclable plastics in the UK

Despite the fact that plastic is one of the most serious environmental threats, many people are unaware that it can be recycled. 

Almost all local authorities collect recyclable plastics at residents’ homes or at community recycling centres. For example, in the UK, each resident can be provided with a list of plastics that are recyclable. 

However, this essentially means that not all plastics are recyclable. Read on to discover more about recyclable plastics in the UK and understand why it’s important to adopt this initiative. 

The Importance of Recycling Plastic 

Before delving into the various types of plastic that can be recycled, consider why we need to recycle plastic in the first place. 

According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), 79% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. Only 50% of plastic waste in the United Kingdom is recycled. To add, plastic packaging contributes to the pollution of our oceans and landscapes, as well as street litter. 

Because plastic requires a lot of energy to make, we need to use less of it to save fossil fuels. Recycling plastic requires less energy than producing new plastic. As such, alternative packaging will eventually eliminate the need for all plastic. 

Because recycling is essential for environmental protection, it is critical to understand how to sort plastics correctly. 

Plastics that are Recyclable

As local authorities accept a wider range of plastics, plastic recycling is becoming more difficult for the average household. 

Many people make the mistake of putting all plastics in the recycling bin, oblivious to the fact that not all plastics are recyclable. Plastic packaging for household items should state whether or not it is recyclable, as well as the type of plastic used. 

The Breakdown

Water bottles and plastic trays made of PET are easily recyclable. Milk cartons and yoghurt pots made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are also easily recyclable. 

Furthermore, polypropylene (PP), which is commonly found in margarine tubs and ready-meal trays, is easily recyclable. Things, however, become more complicated… 

Low-density polyethylene is used to make plastic bags and shrink wrap (for magazines) (LDPE). Because recycling carrier bags is difficult, it is preferable to reuse them whenever possible (or get a long-life bag and do away with them altogether). Bring your plastic bags to your local supermarket if you really need to get rid of them. 

PVC is a type of plastic that is used in the production of cling film, blister packaging (for medications such as paracetamol), and garden furniture. This item is not recyclable and should not be set out for collection. 

Polystyrene (PS), the plastic used to make disposable cutlery, is one of the most difficult to recycle. Furthermore, it is used to make crisp packets and salad bags, so throwing them in the plastic recycling bin almost guarantees that they will end up in the landfill. 

Other plastics, such as thermosets (which contain irreversible chemical bonds) and bioplastics, cannot be recycled. Only non-biodegradable plastic can be recycled, and bio-based plastic is not biodegradable. 

Only your local authority will be able to tell you which plastics are recyclable in your area. This information is usually available on your local council’s website. 

Beginning with Waste Management 

Now that you’re here, you might be wondering if there are easy steps to take to reduce your own contribution of plastic in landfills. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to anything. However, it’s ideal to begin with waste management practices.

Because many plastics cannot be recycled, it is critical to find other uses for them rather than discard them. Waste management in the future will be heavily reliant on technology. While RFID chips are being tested for tracking plastic waste, they are not yet available for public or private use. 

Following the lifecycle of plastic may help experts determine who is to blame for it ending up in the ocean or on the side of the road. The waste manufacturer or waste management company will be identified, and the worst offenders will face prosecution. 

Managing Recyclable Plastics in the UK

To begin, the plastic must be classified according to its polymer type. This is a time-consuming and extensive training process. 

Residential and commercial waste can be sorted on-site, saving people time and ensuring that every recyclable item is salvaged. 

Some companies offer discounted rates to commercial clients who send plastic to them in a single stream due to the ease with which it can be transported to the recycling plant. 

Before it can be used in new products or packaging, it must be shredded, washed, melted, and pelletized at a processing plant. Today, more plastics are being recycled using chemical recycling, which alters the structure of the plastic. 

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, lacks a robust plastic recycling infrastructure. Indeed, due to the inability of domestic infrastructure to keep up with demand, some of the UK’s plastic recycling is sent overseas for recycling. 

Perhaps now is the time to embrace new technologies that can help with landfill and natural area cleanup. 

Recycling and reusing plastic is more important than ever. We must, however, transition to a circular economy in which non-biodegradable packaging is never discarded, and the UK must provide the necessary infrastructure. 

Reasons to Recycle Plastic 

  • Plastics can be recycled into carrier bags and new beverage bottles, but they also have a surprising number of other uses. 
  • Plastic recycling enables the production of underground drainage systems, automobile bumpers, wheelie bins, and even clothing. 
  • Recycled plastic is used to make playground equipment, photo frames, and park benches. 

Plastic Recycling Methods 

  1. Compaction: Compacting your plastic recycling saves space in your household container and streamlines processing (uncrushed plastic bottles tend to roll around). You might also consider squashing the bottle and replacing the cap. Plastic fragments that are too small to be processed by the machine will be rejected. 
  2. Proper Rinsing: Thoroughly rinse plastic containers. If you leave a significant amount of food residue in your plastic recycling, it will almost certainly be rejected at the plant. 
  3. Cut Down Plastic Use: When possible, avoid using plastic. Avoiding the use of plastic in the first place is the most effective way to prevent it from ending up in inappropriate places. Bring your own shopping bags to the store and buy reusable bottles. 
  4. Brew at Home: Buying coffee to go is a waste of both time and money. Better yet, make it yourself to save money. 
  5. Use Reusable Food Containers: Purchase some lidded food storage containers of high quality. It’s easy to stack and slide into the fridge! 
  6. Refuse Elaborate Plastic Packaging: Fruit that has been packaged should be avoided. Bananas, for example, are already packaged in a bright yellow biodegradable material. They do not require an extra bag. 


As a responsible citizen, perhaps it’s only crucial to understand what goes in your home recycling bin, what goes to the local recycling centre, and what goes in the trash to avoid contaminating recyclables. This could also mean engaging in waste management services that adhere to the strictest recycling standards. This way, you could do good for yourself, your local community, and the environment.

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