Green myth buster Rubbish and recycling
Recycling – a waste of energy?
Councils’ recycling collections end up using more energy than if I'd just put my rubbish in the bin.
False! Dustcarts would still go and collect your rubbish, even if there was no recycling.
Even when transportation is taken into account, the energy and resources saved by not having to make new materials from scratch, eg aluminium cans, makes recycling better for the environment than dumping rubbish in landfill sites – especially as they'll fill up in future.
Make the most of your doorstep recycling service by washing, crushing and correctly sorting your rubbish according to local authority guidelines. It’s not just kitchen rubbish that needs to be collected either – make the extra effort to sort rubbish accumulated in other rooms too.
For more difficult-to-recycle items, like paint and batteries, check with your council or the Recycle Now website to find out about community collection schemes.
Read our 20 simple changes report for more tips on recycling domestic rubbish.
Tetra Pak carton recycling
Tetra Pak juice cartons can’t be recycled as they’re made from so many different materials.
False! The need to separate the different materials cartons are made of – cardboard, plastic and sometimes aluminium – can make them a bit tricky but not impossible to recycle.
Recycling facilities for Tetra Paks are now available in 86% of local authority areas in the UK, with 30% of councils now collecting the cartons from your doorstep (according to 2010 Tetrapak figures). Alternatively you can send them to the manufacturer directly for recycling.
Use Tetra Pak’s online interactive map to find out whether your local authority collects cartons for recycling. If it doesn’t, visit Tetra Pak’s dedicated recycling website to find out details of its postal recycling scheme.
Food packaging recycling
Councils won’t collect plastic food packaging as it can’t be recycled.
False! Almost all the 50-odd types of plastic that are manufactured can be recycled, but councils often only focus on recycling bottles as they’re mostly made from just two types of material. This means little sorting is required and there’s a good market for the recycled product.
Visit Recycle Now for details of local facilities to recycle other types of plastics. For instance, supermarkets often offer plastic bag recycling points.
The best thing you can do is reuse plastic bottles (eg instead of buying bottled water) and recycle all the rest where possible – bottles for products other than drinks, eg shampoo, can be recycled too.
Recycling food waste
It’s OK to throw away food waste because natural materials will biodegrade.
False. Kitchen rubbish like leftover food can produce methane as it degrades. This is a highly potent greenhouse gas that’s produced when food waste isn’t exposed to oxygen as it breaks down.
According to WRAP, 6.7 million tonnes of household food waste is produced each year in the UK, most of which could have been eaten.
Reduce the amount of food you throw away by buying more suitable pack sizes when shopping, freezing goods you don’t expect to eat and preparing realistic portions. See the Love Food Hate Waste campaign website for more tips on reducing food waste.
Composting remaining kitchen waste will reduce the amount of rubbish you send to landfill, provide rich soil for your garden and, as composting exposes waste to oxygen, prevent harmful methane emissions. Read our guide to making compost for more tips.
Transferring the rubbish problem overseas
There’s no point sorting rubbish for recycling as it all just gets shipped abroad to be dumped.
While a proportion of sorted rubbish is shipped abroad, it’s not necessarily transferred to foreign landfill sites.
As our recycling rate increases so does the amount of rubbish shipped overseas for recycling. China is the main recipient. In 1997 it imported around 12,000 tonnes of plastic, paper and metal rubbish from the UK; by 2005 this was almost 1.9m tonnes.
According to the Environment Agency, much of the rubbish exported is readily recycled in countries where there’s a demand for raw materials to manufacture consumer goods.
And according to the government’s WRAP programme, the UK’s trade imbalance with countries like China means container ships would return from the UK empty if they weren’t used to transport rubbish for recycling – which means more energy isn’t wasted by shipping it overseas.
Recycle as much of your own household rubbish as possible by carefully washing and sorting it into your correct kerbside recycling bins (if you have them) or local recycling points to prevent contamination. Check the Recycle Now website or with your local council for guidelines of what rubbish can be recycled.
Buy recycled products, or those packaged in recycled materials, where possible to complete the recycling circle and promote demand within the UK. Log on to Recycled Products to find out more about recycled products and packaging.