Un-bin-lievable: Brits still don’t know how to recycle

More and more the media is providing us with feel good stories related to recycling.
Illustration: E. Zillner

Whether it be worldwide fashion brand Adidas selling more than a million pairs of shoes made from recycled ocean plastic in a calendar year or the medals for the Olympics being fashioned from gold of old mobile phones, there is no denying that we’re making progress.

That said, there is no point sugar coating reality. We are nowhere near where we need to be when it comes to our recycling goals. The obstacles that stands in our way, however, are ones that are particularly easy to overcome – a lack of education in terms of what we can recycle and, similarly, being creatures of habit.

In this article, Skip Hire in Leeds look at the UK’s relationship with recycling, the difficulties it faces in its bid to do better, and the bad habits we’ve all fell into when it comes to taking out the trash…


Our failures are not for the want of trying and the correct intentions are present. Six in 10 Brits have said they are making a concerted effort when it comes to buying products in recyclable packaging.

A BBC news report in 2019 found that despite 86 per cent of Londoners wanting to recycle, most of them simply didn’t know how to.

Initially in the UK, when recycling was first introduced, a dual stream system was in place – all materials recycled separately. As developments in technology occurred, a single stream was implemented, meaning that all the recyclable materials would be placed in the same bin and then separated when they reached the recycling centre.

This system works perfectly fine when residents recycle correctly but more often than not, they wish-cycle, which results in full loads of recyclable materials being spoiled. Wish-cycling is when you throw an item into the recycling bin in the hope that it can be recycled – instead of benefiting the recycling efforts, you end up contaminating a number of otherwise perfectly fine products.

53 per cent of respondents admitted it was easier to throw something in the bin than work out whether or not it could be recycled.

But what are we getting confused about?

It should come as no surprise that people are unaware of what plastics they can and cannot recycle. Wood and metal feature alongside plastic in the top ten things that give us a headache when it comes to bin collection day but it might come as a bit of a shock that crisp packets are up there causing major confusion.

For anyone not in the know, crisp packets aren’t, at present, recyclable in your household recycling bins. Instead, however, you can find your nearest collection point via teracycle, to which 80 per cent of homes in the UK have one within four miles.

Although crisp packets mightn’t seem like a major problem in the grand scheme of things, when you take into consideration that the nation’s favourite snack is consumed at 93 per cent of households across the UK, you begin to realise the severity.

Our bad habits

Now, where are we going wrong? Here’s a quick checklist of the most common things we’re doing incorrectly:

  • Failing to recycle magazines – we often jump to the conclusion that we can’t recycle magazines and other glossy paper – wrong, get it in the bin, the recycling bin that is!
  • Including our plastic bags in with the recycling – okay, so the 5p bag rule has limited the amount of plastic bags floating about but even now, with the bags for life, we’re falling into the habit of chucking them into the recycling. This is not where they belong!
  • Putting shredded paper into the recycling bin – it will almost certainly end up at landfill if you put it in with recycling.
  • Throwing old batteries into the bin – whether it’s the recycling or the landfill, batteries do not belong in the bin. Take them to your local collection point, which is often found at a supermarket, and dispose of them there. By doing this, you will prevent their harmful chemicals leaking out.
  • Binning old clothes – almost ¼ of all old UK clothes end up at landfill. Consider selling your old garments on the likes of depop or gifting them to charity.

The UK has a battle on its hands when it comes to combatting pollution – make small changes to your day and help combat the recycling woes!


  1. All major Supermarkets must have Crisp Bag/Biscuit wrapper recycle facilities ASAP.
    Terracycle collection point locations for Crisp bag/ Biscuit wrapper aren’t necessarily accessible to non car users, this is why supermarkets have to take the lead.


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