How to recycle properly at home

11 Dec 2023
4 min read

Make the most of your valuable waste materials by recycling as much as possible.

Most of us are familiar with recycling at home. Depending on your local authority, you’ll either have a bag or a box (or sometimes multiples thereof), into which you put particular materials such as card, aluminium and plastic when you’re finished with them.

Waste has a huge negative impact on the environment and recycling helps to reduce the need for raw materials

Frustratingly, there’s no universal system, so the way you recycle at home could be vastly different to the way your friend in another county recycles. Nonetheless, it’s important to get it right. Waste has a huge negative impact on the environment, and recycling helps to reduce the need for raw materials and the energy that goes into producing them, as well as helping to reduce pollution caused by waste, and harmful greenhouse gases that are released from rubbish in landfill sites.

The UK is doing an acceptable job of recycling its waste, but it could be doing better. The latest figures show that we hit a recycling rate of 43.3% in 2022 – slightly down on 2021 figures.

Of course, most ordinary people don’t have much say over major recycling policies – those come down to local councils and waste contractors – but it is possible to make a difference by recycling diligently at home and avoiding common recycling mistakes. Check out these tips to make sure you’re on track with your recycling.

1. Understand your council’s recycling system

Recycling can be confusing, but it’s absolutely in your local council’s best interests to help you understand what you need to do, so look at their website for guidance on exactly what materials you can recycle and how. Or have a look at Recycle Now’s useful local authority tool, which will point you in the right direction.

2. Don’t guess which materials can be recycled

If you’re not sure if something can be recycled, don’t just put it in with your recycling anyway – especially if your council operates a system where everything gets mixed together in one bag (commingled recycling). Putting the wrong things in the recycling bin can spoil an entire batch of material, meaning it becomes destined for landfill and increases costs to us the tax payer. Double check, and if you’re still not sure, put it in your black bag waste.

3. Give food packaging a rinse

Getting as much food out of plastic, glass and aluminium containers makes them loads easier to recycle, and also helps to avoid contamination which can spoil a whole collection of recycling.

4. Keep lids attached to bottles and jars

Lids should remain attached to larger items, even if the lid and the jar or bottle are made of different materials– unless your local authority has specified that they are removed. Lids are small and light, so during the recycling process they can easily fall through sorting gaps which are designed to collect contamination. If you leave the lid on, however, it can be manually removed by the recycling facility and then sent on to be recycled properly elsewhere. Keeping lids on also stops other materials from getting stuck inside bottles or jars.

5. Flatten your materials

The term ‘flatten’ often appears on recycling labels on plastic bottles and drinks cartons. By squashing the packaging flat you’ll have more space in your recycling bin, and it makes transporting recycling much more efficient, which is another win for the environment. This also stops bottles from rolling off machine conveyor belts.

6. Beware black plastic

Even if your local authority says it collects plastic waste, it’s unlikely that includes black plastic – the sort used for microwaveable meals and pre-packaged foods. These trays are usually coloured with carbon black, which makes them undetectable by recycling facility sorting machines, and so they’re just sent to landfill or incinerated. Definitely don’t put them in your recycling, but better yet, avoid purchasing them in the first place if you can.

The Bottom Line

Reducing waste by consuming less and choosing better is always the first goal. But for unavoidable waste, recycling is very important, especially for things made of metal. It’s fair to say that recycling isn’t quite as simple and straightforward as it should be – but it is slowly getting easier. While the logistics of recycling will vary from place to place, these are good hard and fast rules to stick to. Make them a part of your domestic routine and rest assured you’re doing the best you can to minimise landfill.


The information in this article was correct at the time of writing and is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.

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