Confused about recycling? You’re not alone

I meet a lot of people in my work who ask me if they can recycle this or that, or which bin they should put something in, and are embarrassed to be asking. The general feeling is that we all ought to know. But, actually, recycling is very confusing.

Generally, the question isn’t really whether something can be recycled, but whether it will be collected for recycling here. And not which is the right bin for whatever it is, but which is the bin to be used here. Because everywhere is different.

Different boroughs and different workplaces have different recycling services, collecting different items, so that what is ‘recyclable’ in one place isn’t in another, and there are no common container types or colours. So no wonder people get confused.

WRAP’s 2016 Recycling Tracker Survey* showed that:

  • Two-thirds of households were unsure of how to correctly dispose of one or more items. 

  • Almost half of UK households put one or more items in the waste bin that could have been in the recycling collection for their area. 

  • Just over two-thirds of UK households put one or more items in their recycling bin that are not accepted locally. 

  • Only one in eight households do not put any items in the waste bin that could be recycled, nor do they put any items in the recycling that are not accepted.

Anyone feeling confused is in the majority!

So perhaps it’s time to stop being embarrassed about asking, and instead to request clearer guidelines.

*Waste and Resources Action Programme. Report available from 

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