84% of UK households are unintentionally contaminating their recycling bins

New public insights released by Recycle Now – part of climate action NGO, WRAP – have found that we are a nation of wish cyclers, with the vast majority of well-intentioned households trying to recycle items that should not go in the recycling bin, in an effort to do their bit. Contaminants affect the quality of the recycling, its value and in extreme cases mean that the recycling has to be disposed of rather than recycled.

In response, this year’s Recycle Week 2022 (17th – 23rd October 2022) is themed ‘Let’s Get Real’. Recycle Now are targeting contamination to improve recycling behaviours, whilst busting myths around recycling. The campaign acknowledges that we all have busy lives and can easily put the wrong thing in the wrong bin. However, by coming together this Recycle Week and committing to change our habits, we can make a real difference. 

The new insights from Recycle Now – captured from over 3,000 people living across the UK – have found that over four fifths (84%) of well-intentioned households are putting one or more ‘contaminator’ items in the recycling, when they actually can’t be recycled from home.

Helen Bird, Recycling Expert at Recycle Now, says:Our Recycling Tracker shows that, although many of us are trying our best when it comes to recycling, there’s still room to grow. We’re a nation of real people, with real lives that sometimes get in the way.

Recycling doesn’t have to be confusing, which is why, this Recycle Week, we’re asking people to type their postcode into our Recycling Locator, to find out what to recycle where they live.

We save 18 million tonnes of CO2 every year by recycling – the same environmental impact as taking 12 million cars off the road – so let’s keep up the good work, and ‘get real’ this Recycle Week!”

The biggest contaminator is drinking glasses, with a third (33%) of UK households mistakenly adding these to their recycling. This is closely followed by foil pouches (29%) and toothpaste tubes (26%) – which over a quarter of households mistakenly put in the recycling.

UK top ten contaminants:

  1. Drinking glasses (33%)
  2. Foil pouches (29%)
  3. Toothpaste tubes (26%)
  4. Plastic film lids (24%)
  5. Tissues & Paper towels (22%)
  6. Glass cookware (22%)
  7. Plastic film (20%)
  8. Cartons (19%)
  9. Plastic toys (18%)
  10. Frozen veg bags (18%)

When too many contaminated items are collected, it can stop whole lorry loads of material from being recycled. If every household in the UK contaminates their recycling with a standard drinking glass, it’s enough to fill over 363 refuse lorries! But if we recycle right, we can have a huge positive impact on the environment.

The public survey has been released alongside other initiatives taking place during Recycle Week 2022 including: the installation of a giant scannable QR code, made of recyclable materials, in Birmingham New Street station, unveiled by environment enthusiast and Recycle Week supporter, Mark Foster; landmark buildings going green across the UK; and a campaign film featuring the real faces of recycling. 

As well as revealing the nation’s top recycling contaminants, Recycle Now’s insights found that four fifths (80%) of UK households are missing out on recycling everyday items from all over the house.

Glass perfume and aftershave bottles are the most missed item, with over half (52%) of UK households not putting these in the recycling bin. Other items which are often missed include foil (27%), aerosols (22%) and plastic food trays (14%).

When looking at the generations, surprisingly the survey found that Gen Z and Millennials put 6-7 recyclable items in the wrong bin, whereas those aged 55 dispose of 4-5 items incorrectly.

The top ranked reason across all age groups was; ‘I’m not sure if some items can be recycled or not’. However, there’s an easy way to avoid this uncertainty – Recycle Now’s Recycling Locator tool can tell you exactly what can be recycled in your area.

Environment Minister, Trudy Harrison, said: “Recycling and reusing more of our waste is such an important part of protecting the environment, but it is vital that we get it right so we don’t inadvertently consign recyclables to landfill through contamination.

“We are pressing ahead with our plans for consistent recycling collections so the same materials are collected from every household and business in England, making it easier for people to get bin day right.”

For the third year running, major brands are putting their support behind Recycle Week by sponsoring to help fund it including Arla Foods, Biffa, British Soft Drinks Association, Coca-Cola, Danone, innocent drinks, McDonald’s, The Natural Source Waters Association, Britvic, PepsiCo and Ocado.

Recycling doesn’t have to be confusing. Find out more about what you can and can’t recycle, by typing your postcode into Recycle Now’s trusty Recycling Locator: www.recyclenow.com/recycle-week-2022

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