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Close up of a pump being removed from a plastic hand wash bottle in a bathroom

How to Recycle

How is plastic recycled?

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Plastic is one of the most popular and useful materials of modern times and it is important that we optimise the lifespan of plastics as much as possible. Worldwide we produce 300 million tonnes of plastic each year and most people are re-using and recycling their plastics.

Why is it important to recycle plastic?

Plastic is a popular and highly versatile material, and we use a lot of it. Re-using and recycling items as many times as possible can reduce our need to create new plastic.

This means we can:

  • conserve non-renewable fossil fuels (oil)

  • reduce the consumption of energy used in the production of new plastic

  • reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfill

  • reduce emission of gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

How is plastic recycled?

Plastics are:

  • Sorted by polymer type

  • Shredded

  • Washed

  • Melted

  • Pelletised

  • Made into new products.

It is a two-stage process:

  • Sorting is mainly done automatically with a manual sort to ensure all contaminants have been removed.

  • Once sorted and cleaned, plastic can either be shredded into flakes or melt processed to form pellets before finally being moulded into new products.

There are many different types of plastic in use. Whilst we have been able to recycle some of these in the UK for some time, there is now ongoing large investments in the technology required to expand the scope of plastic materials we are able to recycle including items such as those used to make flexible pouches. Whilst more different types of plastic are being recycled, there are some types that still go to landfill, are incinerated or are transported abroad for recycling.

How is recycled plastic used?

A wide range of products can be made from recycled plastic including:

  • drinks bottles and food trays

  • polyester fabric for clothing

  • wheeled bins and food caddies

  • refuse sacks and carrier bags

  • composters and wormeries

  • wheel arch liners and bumpers on cars

  • damp proof membranes

  • reusable crates and pallets

  • flower pots, seed trays, watering cans and water butts.

How to recycle plastic

Plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays

Plastic bottles of all kinds are usually made from two types of plastic that are easy to recycle - PET and HDPE. 99% of all UK local authorities now offer collection facilities for plastic bottles either through household recycling collections or at Recycling Centres. In addition, more and more local authorities are also now offering collections for mixed plastics packaging such as pots, tubs and trays.

Many people are already recycling these types of plastic but by entering your postcode into our Recycling Locator tool below you can check which types of plastic your local authority collects to ensure you are recycling as many plastics as possible, including those from the kitchen and bathroom!

Plastic bags and wrappings

Recently, some supermarkets and retailers have started collecting a wider range of plastic bags and wrappings, or soft plastics as they are sometimes called. This means that it is now possible to recycle packaging such as baby and pet food pouches, crisp and sweet packets, delivery bags and salad bags along with plastic carrier bags and bread bags at these stores - fimd your nearest on our How to recycle plastic bags and wrapping page.

Compostable plastic

Some types of plastic may say they are compostable in a home composter. These types of plastic should not go in your dry recycling collection or garden waste bin however, as they cannot be recycled in the same way as non-biodegradable plastic.

Understanding symbols on plastic packaging

It can be confusing at times to understand how to recycle some items. Symbols on plastic packaging can help to explain which type of plastic they're made of and how to recycle them - find out more about understanding recycling symbols.

Find out which plastics you can recycle at home

Enter your postcode to check

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