Confused about recycling?

I have just read an article by Natwest Bank which shows that there is an eye watering amount of credit cards in circulation.

Whilst this is perhaps to be expected in todays’ cashless society, the problem begins when the cards expire.

Natwest’s research reveals that there are 65 million unused plastic cards are gathering dust in UK homes. That’s just the UK – and just the unused cards!

Since 2017, credit, store and gift cards have created over 380 tonnes of plastic waste.

The problem is the way that the cards are disposed of; over 6 million people assume that cards can be recycled with other waste and therefore finish up in landfill. People are confused how to dispose of their cards, and want to do so securely, but if they are put into the wrong bins then that waste is contaminated, estimated to have affected over 10 million batches of recycling.

Natwest have decided to try and help confusion for consumers by installing what they call “Reverse Vending Machines” in some banks and at sites near busy transport hubs and large hospitals. These machines shred the cards, along with other types of compatible waste, and dispose of the resulting matter in the right place.

At the moment the scheme is only available in London but hopefully it will roll out to a wider audience. However, whist researching the problem, it seems that Santander have a similar scheme in place so hopefully the service will continue to grow as more financial institutions follow suit.

For those of us that don’t have this facility in our area yet, I tried to find out what I should be doing with my old cards – and the information online is very conflicting. Some say household, some say recycling bin. You should of course cut the card up into very small pieces, but I’m still not sure about which bin to put them in.

This got me thinking about general recycling, as I know it’s a problem sometimes  to know what can be recycled and what can’t. And this varies from region to region.

I saw a report that said as much as 80% of us don’t recycle cardboard, plastic and food correctly. I must admit I find part of this surprising; surely cardboard and food are the easy parts? I get it that plastics are confusing.

It appears that some people think they are too busy to be bothered with recycling, so they just put everything in the same bin. Some can’t be bothered to separate glass bottles and jars and take them to a bottle bank, again putting them in general waste. But the biggest issue is the confusion.

So here are 10 types of waste commonly found at home, with a note of whether they are recyclable or not.

Polystyrene        Not recyclable

Pizza boxes         Yes, if not too greasy

Black plastic        Not recyclable

Aerosols              Yes, if completely empty

Crisp packets     Not generally recyclable but Walkers run their own scheme

Till receipts            Paper yes, thermal (shiny paper), no.

Paper towels          No

Aluminium foil       Yes, if clean (easy to wipe)

Clear plastic film    No

Coffee cups             Not at home, but coffee shops sometimes take them back

I realise we all live busy lives, but surely we owe to ourselves, others and the planet to make an effort to understand the recycling “rules”. Have a look at your local council’s website for guidance as to what can be recycled, this gives a good oversight for most items. Hopefully you will only have to do the research once, make notes for the family to make it easy to recycle and eventually it will be automatic to you to recycle correctly.

The WRAP website (Waste and Resources Action Programme) has good information too, although I found it a bit long winded in finding the information.

I did find a couple of items that surprised me, for instance, toothpaste tubes aren’t recyclable, or plastic toys.

Whilst I could assume most recycle responsibly, I think it’s also safe to assume that probably all of us are confused about some aspect of it. I read an article which said there are some people not recycling certain items, which I was surprised about as I think they’re obvious so here are a few items not always recycled:-


Yoghurt pots, rinsed

Envelopes & paper

Cardboard boxes, broken down.

To help with the confusion, the Government is planning on introducing consistent and clear symbols on packaging in an effort to make it easier for the consumer.

Some supermarkets have plastic film drop off points, so that the bits we can’t recycle at home can be dealt with properly if we take the time to get in the habit of taking waste to the supermarket when we shop. You probably take your bottles to the supermarkets’ bottle bank when you shop, so include plastic film with that thought process.

Apparently all plastics can be recycled, but some of them are uneconomical to do so. The Government are therefore encouraging manufacturers to use less of those plastics that cannot be recycled economically, by introducing a ban on using plastic if another more environmentally friendly material could be used, and to put a tax onto packaging that has a recycled content of less than 30%.

We currently save around 18 million tonnes of C02 by recycling, which is the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road. Obviously this makes a massive difference, so if we can get the confusion sorted, and educate those people that can’t be bothered or are too busy, we can increase those numbers further.

Reverse Conscious Clothing, being in the garment industry, only use products that are environmentally made. Mostly organic cotton, but where there is a polyester content, it’s recycled polyester. Our packaging is made from recycled material which is itself recyclable again, so closing the loop. (see our environmental policy here)

Our other workwear business, Top Marques Uniform Solutions, has seen an increase in the number of enquiries where businesses are keen to show they are a caring company by choosing organic and sustainable garments. Others have it thrust upon them, when they tender for business to a large corporate organisation, who insist their suppliers have green credentials.

So it is possible to recycle, you may have to put a bit of effort in to get it right, but ultimately it’s worth it for all our sakes. And if we buy sensibly in the first place, from ethical companies, we are making it easier down the line.

I have only scratched the surface of the information that’s available so please do your own research that’s relevant to you and the area you live in.