What can and can’t be recycled in your bag of shopping – and why – The Telegraph

As Sainsbury’s quietly removes its car park recycling facilities, we dive into the recycling bins to identify unwanted guests
Unpack your weekly shopping and you will be presented with an astonishing array of plastics, metals, glass, paper and – worryingly – unholy unions of all the above.
When it comes to recycling, calling it “complicated” seems like an understatement, so recent reports that Sainsbury’s – the UK’s second-largest supermarket – is gradually phasing out its car park recycling centres have left many households wondering where to turn.
Sainsbury’s have stated that they want to “support our customers in their efforts to help the planet” and claim to be “prioritising services at our stores that people cannot get elsewhere”.
And, granted, kerbside recycling often includes paper, cans, hard plastics, glass and food waste. Local tips will take anything from cooking oil to textiles. Supermarkets, then, are left with the responsibility for “soft plastics” such as bread bags and crisp packets and, variably, depending on postcode, water filters, unwanted make-up and household batteries.
Yet, while recycling facilities are welcoming a more exotic range of products, and brands are taking some efforts to simplify their packaging, as a consumer, knowing what can be reworked into something new and what needs, alas, to languish in the bin, is still a minefield.
So what does it now take to recycle the packaging from a bag of everyday household items? We talk to Adam Herriott, from the government-funded charity the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
Small glass bottle; shrink-wrap plastic securing lid; foil collar; paper label front and back; plastic lid
“Glass sauce bottles are nice and simple,” explains Herriott. “They go straight into the recycling bin at home. You can keep the lid on top of the bottle. I think every local authority across the UK accepts glass. Ideally we’d say give glass packaging a little rinse-out, but it’s very difficult with the Tabasco bottle as it has a very small top.” The only element that can’t be recycled at home is the flexible plastic seal, which you can gather with other flexible plastics and take back to the supermarket.
Difficulty of recycling: 1/5
1 litre Tetra pak carton FSC Mix; plastic lid
Whether cartons for long-life milk or milk alternatives can be recycled depends on your local authority as they are “very, very difficult to recycle… there are complex materials in there that are attached and need to be separated,” says Herriott.“There’s only one facility in the UK that can deal with them.”
Tetra Pak’s website says the cartons are made from 70 per cent paperboard, 25 per cent plastic and five per cent aluminium. “Not all local authorities accept these – it’s around 60 per cent,” says Herriott. “Most of the remaining areas have big banks that you can recycle them in, which might be at your local tip.”
Difficulty of recycling: 5/5
Coloured glass; paper label; gold foil; natural cork 
“Once you’ve drunk the wine – you don’t want to waste that – put the bottle straight into the recycling bin at home, after giving it a quick rinse if possible, with the label and foil collar still on,” says Herriott. “The cork will have to go in the bin, unfortunately.”
It is possible to recycle corks through specialist services such as Recorked UK, but they can’t be recycled kerbside. Some types of cork can be composted at home, but “this is where it gets quite tricky as there are various different types,” says Herriott, and it’s difficult to differentiate between them. “I would say they need to go in the bin.”
Difficulty of recycling: 0/5 
Plastic tube with flip-top lid made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE); cardboard box 
It used to be too complicated to recycle toothpaste tubes, as they were made from a mix of materials. However, that is changing, and most toothpaste tubes have either already moved or will be moving to what Herriott calls “mono-material – a single type of polymer”, which can be recycled at home.
Colgate tubes are primarily made from HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) and are already recyclable, provided they have the black recycling symbol on them. They don’t need to be rinsed out beforehand – just make sure all the toothpaste is squeezed from the tube.
Difficulty of recycling: 0/5
Clear plastic outer; card insert with coloured plastic-handled brushes tipped with wire brush with synthetic bristles 
The packaging can go in your household recycling, but the short answer is that “these [brushes] have to go in the bin, unfortunately,” says Herriott. The brush handles are made from polypropylene, but the bristles are currently made from a mix of plastics that make them difficult to recycle. However, at TerraCycle, the Philips Dental Care Free Recycling Programme accepts used dental products from any brand if you print the free shipping label.
Difficulty of recycling: 5/5
HDPE bottle; plastic lid
Another easy one. “Make sure it’s empty, but then it can go in the recycling bin,” says Herriott. “They’re very widely recycled. Bleach bottles are made from HDPE and they’ll be recycled into things like pipes for civic works under roads, to hold cables – there are lots of uses. Because they’ve had chemicals in, they won’t be used for food-grade plastic.” Remember to put the lid on before recycling.
Difficulty of recycling: 0/5
Plastic bottle with paper label; plastic pump
These are complicated. The plastic bottle itself can go in household recycling with the paper label still on it. “But the pumps on hand soap aren’t recyclable yet,” says Herriott. That’s because “they contain metal or glass ball bearings to make the pump work.
“We’ve been working with the industry to try and help change that. Those metal ball bearings can have a negative impact on recycling infrastructure, which is why you have to remove the pump first.”
Difficulty of recycling: 2/5
Foil capsule; foil lid (while there are some great home-compostable coffee pods on the market, they’re still averaging twice the price as aluminium capsules and are hard to find in supermarkets)
“In an ideal world, you would just use ground coffee rather than coffee pods,” says Herriott. “You haven’t got to deal with the packaging in the first place, and the ground coffee can go in food waste or home compost.”
However, many pod manufacturers now offer some sort of recycling scheme, and some are home compostable. “Those who are very conscious of environmental impact would empty the used pod of coffee and put this in the food waste,” he says. “Then there are takeback [recycling schemes] or you can post them off – they’re not necessarily accessible for all and you have to be quite committed to go out of your way and recycle them.”
Difficulty of recycling: 4/5
Oversized cardboard box for the packets inside; packets made of plastic and foil; paper leaflet inside. 
Blister packets are made from a combination of plastic and foil that makes recycling tricky. “These are notorious, and very topical at the moment,” says Herriott. “The cardboard and paper instructions inside aren’t a problem – they can go into your recycling – but the blister packs themselves… If you want to deal with it at home, they’ll have to go into your refuse bin. But there are options out there. Some pharmacies – Superdrug for example – will take them back to be recycled, and they can be recycled through specialist schemes.” 
Difficulty of recycling: 5/5
Wipe-proof card box; plastic blade; PVC-free cling film; inner cardboard tube
Cardboard – provided it isn’t contaminated with food – is very widely recycled, so you can pop the inner tube in home recycling. The clingfilm itself isn’t so simple. But while soft plastics can’t be recycled at home, it’s relatively easy to gather up film, plastic bags and cling film and take these back to your supermarket to be recycled, says Herriott.
And in the near future, it will be easier still: “There was recently a Government announcement on simpler recycling, and films and [plastic] flexibles were some of the items you’ll be able to recycle from home by 2027,” he says.
Difficulty of recycling: 3/5
Ring-pull can with paper label
Food cans and tins are easily and endlessly recyclable – just “give them a rinse and stick them in the recycling,” says Herriott. You can leave the labels on.
“You need more energy to melt steel, aluminium and glass to reform them, but they are infinitely recyclable, so they won’t lose quality.” According to WRAP, each can could be recycled and be back on sale as another can in just 60 days.
Difficulty of recycling: 0/5
Aluminium tube, plastic lid
Some authorities say they have to be cleaned out, but Herriott says aluminium tubes can be recycled in the same way as aluminium tins, caps included. “Make sure it’s all squeezed out, and then that can go into recycling,” says Herriott.
He says you don’t have to cut a tube open and clean it out completely, as this will be handled at the recycling facility – just ensure you’ve squeezed out as much product as possible.
Difficulty of recycling: 0/5
The recycling symbol on the pack indicates it’s made from polypropylene
Snack and crisp packets are “an interesting one”, says Herriott. “There are two types of metallised foil packaging. The crisp-packet type is nice and simple; it can be recycled at front of store [in supermarkets] with other plastic films.
They are just counted as plastics, you don’t count the foil. The other type is a foil laminate, like that used for baby food pouches, and they’re a bit more difficult to recycle as you can’t separate the foil from the plastic. But most supermarkets will accept them as well.” If in doubt, check the label.
Difficulty of recycling: 4/5
Plastic carton wrapped in paper; peelable plastic top (Yeo Valley has removed the closeable plastic lid previously used on larger cartons)
As above, plastic tubs are easy to recycle at home. Many of Yeo Valley’s yogurt pots are made from 100 per cent recycled plastic, and the pots and sleeves can be recycled kerbside. Just peel off the plastic film top and keep it separate – it can be recycled with other flexible plastics at supermarkets.
Difficulty of recycling: 0/5
Plastic pouch; large plastic cap
According to the website, the cap and pouch are not recyclable at home, but if you collect 13 pouches they can be packed up and recycled under a specialist scheme (enval.com).
“There’s a layer of plastic, usually polypropylene, then a layer of foil, but that is changing. Ella’s Kitchen, for example, have removed the foil, so it’s a lot easier to recycle,” says Herriott.
Difficulty of recycling: 4/5
Plastic pouch (carries a recycling symbol)
“Pet food is packaged in similar materials to baby food pouches,” says Herriott, so they can be difficult to recycle, although “some supermarkets will take them.”
As an alternative, the retailer Pets At Home now offers in-store recycling at selected shops and vet practices. They will recycle any brand of pet food that comes in a flexible plastic packet – but they need to be cleaned out beforehand, which can be tricky.
Difficulty of recycling: 5/5
Plastic pack; absorption pad; film lid; paper label
Pre-packed meat comes with several types of packaging, some recyclable, some not, but it’s a fairly simple process. “The absorbent patches under the meat go in the bin – not much you can do about that,” says Herriott. “The film can go back to your local supermarket, and the tray can go into your plastics recycling.”
Difficulty of recycling: 3/5
Foil container; film lid; card outer
Recycling a ready meal container is easy as pie. “The card outer can go into your recycling at home, nice and simple. The film can go to your local supermarket, then the foil tray can go into the recycling – just give it a rinse to make sure there isn’t loads of food in it,” says Herriott. If the meal has come in a plastic tray, that can be rinsed and put in household recycling, too.
Difficulty of recycling: 1/5
Cardboard box; inner plastic wrap
The cardboard box is recyclable at home, but if the Weetabix themselves are wrapped in plastic, this will need to go to your local supermarket.
“Some – maybe the supermarket own-brand versions – have a paper wrap, which can go into your paper recycling,” adds Herriott.
Difficulty of recycling: 2/5
Perforated plastic and paper bag
What should you do about bakery bags? “Good question,” says Herriott. “If a bread wrapper is majority paper, it can go into paper recycling. If it’s more plastic – obviously you get some that are half and half – they can go into the front of store recycling at supermarkets.”
Difficulty of recycling: 2/5


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