Plastic pollution is one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, with around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste produced globally every year.
From plastic bags to water bottles and food packaging to shampoo bottles, we buy and use plastic products just about every day.
Understanding which types of plastic can – and can’t – be recycled can be confusing, but it’s essential if we want to limit the amount that ends up in landfill and tackle this environmental problem.
We’ve created this simple and easy to use guide to plastic recycling at home to help everyone recycle more.
What plastics can be recycled?
PET plastic – or polyethylene terephthalate – is the most widely recycled type of plastic. Products made from PET include single-use water bottles, drinks bottles and some yoghurt cartons. Look for the recycling symbol with a number 1 and the letters PET if you’re unsure.
You can recycle PET plastic with your household recycling collection.
High density polyethylene – or HDPE – is another widely recycled type of plastic. You might need to check with your local authority to see if you can recycle alongside your household recycling, or if you should take it to a local recycling centre.
Bottles and tubs including milk cartons, plastic bottle caps, shampoo bottles and ice cream tubs are usually made from HDPE plastic. If it’s a harder, coloured bottle or carton, it’s probably made from HDPE.
What plastics can’t be recycled?
PVC plastic, or to use its full name, polyvinyl chloride plastic, cannot be recycled in household or local authority collections. Products made from this type of plastic include clingfilm, medicine blister packaging*, as well as pipes and plastic furniture.
*Recycling company TerraCycle has partnered with several pharmacies in the UK to offer a free medicine packet recycling programme. Though it’s been scaled back due to a lack of funding, if you live near a Superdrug pharmacy, you can still recycle your empty packets there.
If you’ve ever received something fragile in the post, it’s likely to have come protected by polystyrene. There are two main types of polystyrene – regular polystyrene, which is hard and breaks easily, and expanded polystyrene, which is lightweight and often used in packaging products or insulation.
CD cases, plastic forks and some yoghurt pots are made from hard polystyrene, while expanded polystyrene products include packing peanuts, Styrofoam, insulation and foam takeaway containers. Unfortunately, it can’t be recycled anywhere, so you’ll have to place it in your household waste bin.
What plastics can be recycled in recycling facilities?
Our first type of plastic that can be recycled in many local authority recycling facilities is LDPE – or low-density polyethylene. Common household products made from LDPE include bread bags, frozen food bags, squeezable bottles containing creams and gels, and certain types of carrier bags.
If your local authority doesn’t collect and recycle carrier bags, check your supermarket, as many of these now have dedicated bag recycling bins.
Polypropylene plastic, or PP plastic, will also need to be taken to your local recycling facility – but check online before making the journey in case your local authority doesn’t recycle this type of plastic.
Plastic straws, takeaway food containers, parcel packing tape and plastic picnic plates and cutlery are often made from PP plastic. Look for the number 5 in the recycling logo and for the letters PP.
Crisp packets deserve a category of their own. Made from composite plastics, they fall into the ‘Other’ plastic category (look for the number 7 on the symbol). While you can’t recycle them in home recycling collections anywhere in the UK, several supermarket chains offer crisp packet recycling facilities alongside plastic bags and other wrapping instore.