Tips to Prepare Waste for Recycling

By Liam Patton on 12th May 2022 (updated: 17th May 2022) in News & Blog

Though it may seem like a simple task, recycling can feel extremely complicated at times. With dozens of rules and complications thrown into the mix, it can be stressful to make the right decisions. Often, this results in people ‘wishcycling’ (more on this later) and generally feeling a bit helpless.

WRAP found that in 2021, a startling 85% of households put one or more items in the kerbside recycling that is not accepted in their in their local recycling collection. But even if the items you include are recyclable, how you prepare them can make an impact later down the line.

While the good intention is there, and better than ever before, there is still a way to go when it comes to correctly preparing waste for recycling. Here are some simple steps to help you get off on the right foot.


Be Aware of ‘Wishcycling’

While recycling correctly is a good thing, wishcycling is not. Also known as aspirational recycling, it refers to people putting things into the recycling bin and hoping it will be dealt with at the waste management centre. The truth is that it can do more harm than good and has the potential to contaminate batches, therefore sending even more things to landfill. Don’t be afraid to pop something into general waste if it cannot be recycled.


Throwing items into the recycling bin and hoping for the best.


Educating your household, whether it’s your housemate, partner or your children, to create good recycling habits. Why not create a game to test each other on whether a certain item should be recycled or otherwise?


Check The Labels

Is the symbol asking you to rinse the item first? Is it asking you to keep the lid on? Can one part of the item be recycled while the other can’t? Anything recyclable will be labelled clearly and anything that isn’t clearly labelled usually means it should be thrown away as general waste. This is one of the biggest culprits for people ‘wishcycling’ in the UK.


Rushing your recycling-sorting process, resulting in any labels being ignored.


Putting items aside to sort through later. Most waste isn’t sorted properly because people are in a rush, so why not create a box to put potential recycling into so that you can sort it properly once you have more time? This way, you’ll be able to take the time to become familiar with the rules too.


Learn Your Local Recycling Rules

It’s important to be familiar with your local recycling rules, which confusingly can differ across districts. Some collect tins and plastic together, while others strictly don’t. You can’t go far wrong by taking the time to check this information on your councils’s website and becoming familiar with the rules. It will become second nature before you know it.


Guessing what the local recycling rules are and assuming that all districts follow the same ones.


Popping a note on your fridge or making a note on your phone. If you’re staying in another district on holiday or you’ve moved house, make sure you pay special attention to any new rules by checking the local council’s website.


Make Sure Your Recycling is Clean and Dry

If your recycling bin has an odour, this is usually the first sign that something is in there that shouldn’t be. After washing your items thoroughly to remove any leftover food or liquid, leave them out to dry before putting them in the recycling bin. Give the items one final check before popping them into the recycling. This will help keep contamination at bay and will make the experience much more pleasant for you!


Mixing wet recycling with dry recycling, as this could contaminate an entire batch of recycling, resulting in it being sent to landfill.


Treating your items like dirty cutlery or dishes. Store any items that need to be washed next to your sink so that you can load them in when you next do the washing up, before leaving them to dry thoroughly and popping them into the recycling bin.


Reduce the Amount of Non-recyclable Items You Buy

Feelings of guilt can come from putting things into general waste after finding out that an item isn’t recyclable. Unfortunately, it is always better to do this than putting it into the recycling bin and hoping for the best. The simplest way to avoid having to do this regularly is to buy less non-recyclable items in the first place. Making zero-waste changes such as buying loose fruit and veg or visiting refillable stores where possible can be a good first step.


Impulse-buying items whether in-person or online and consider the packaging that may come with anything you do buy. Often, buying in person can give you more control over this.


Making it a personal challenge to limit waste where possible when shopping by planning your shopping list items ahead. If you’re shopping in-person, you can also store reusable bags in your car boot or in the bottom of your handbag.


Break Down Electrical Items

The UK was the second worst in the world at recycling e-waste in 2019, according to the Environmental Audit Committee. Taking apart electrical items is crucial, as certain components can be recycled individually, such as batteries and cables. While some local authorities offer kerbside collection for small electricals, most don’t, so make sure you drop your items off at your local recycling centre or look out for retailer schemes with the likes of Argos or Currys.


Mindlessly throwing electrical items into the recycling or general waste bins.


Taking apart and storing any items that need to be recycled separately, ready for your next trip to the tip. Lots of supermarkets now collect used batteries to be recycled, so you could keep them stored in a box before you take them all in one trip.


Don’t Stash Items Inside Each Other

Keep items loose and avoid bagging or tying your recyclables. Make sure you’re not stashing items into tins and other containers, as this can only complicate things at the recycling plant. The machines at the recycling plants do a great job at separating your recycling, but there’s a need for us to do our bit in the first place to help with the process. Loose, clean and dry is the way to go.


Stashing items inside each other when sorting your recycling.


Keeping everything loose to allow for easier sorting at the waste management centre. You can, however, compress your items, which in turn will help to avoid this problem – more on this in the next section…


Compress Items Where Possible

Whether it’s flattening a carboard box or crushing your aluminium cans, compressing your items will help to make room for even more recycling in your bin. It will also prompt you to check for stashed items and empty out any remaining contents such as liquid, which can compromise the recycling process and contaminate entire batches if we’re not careful.


Throwing items into your recycling bin willy-nilly, which in turn will fill up your bin much faster and limit the amount you’ll be able to recycle (and cause your bin to overflow, which is never convenient!)


Making it a household challenge to compress each item you put into the bin. As mentioned before, if you are in a rush, set any items aside so that you can take the time to do it more thoroughly later.


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