Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Secret Life of Recycled Plastics

Brits are binning 15 million plastic bottles every single day, despite the fact they can be transformed, through recycling, into a range of surprising items.

To tackle this, Pledge 4 Plastics – a national initiative aiming to boost plastics recycling – has released a short animated video revealing the ‘secret lives’ of plastics after being recycled.

Alongside plastic bottles, the animation places a strong emphasis on plastic tubs, pots and trays – only 30 per cent of which are recycled from UK households each year.

Ah, here we hit a problem in Redbridge and all the other boroughs that make up the East London Waste Authority who will only collect and recycle "plastic bottles". See Redbridge-i.

This can't be due to the different types of plastic, see below. I've been all over my house, garage and shed and checked my plastic bottles - I have examples of all 7 types, plus some with no marking at all. And it seems that separating different types of plastic is quite easy. So, the problem must be contamination. Bottles, by and large, contain liquids, some more viscous than others, but they generally do not solidify on contact with air and so any residue is easy to wash out. On the other hand residues of paint, glue, no more nails or silicon sealant, for example, is very difficult to remove. However, quite why margarine and yoghurt pots or meat trays fall into this latter category is beyond me at the moment.

Some interesting statistics from RECOUP, the member-based plastics recycling charity.
  1. It costs up to £78 million to dispose of the plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays not collected for recycling from UK households
  2. Less than 60 per cent of plastic bottles and 30 per cent of plastic pots, tubs and trays are collected for recycling from households in the UK
  3. 36 million plastic bottles are used by UK households in the UK every day - 15 million are not recycled
  4. The average UK household uses around 500 plastic bottles per year but only recycles just over half of them
  5. All types of plastic bottles can be recycled, including those used for juice, water, fizzy drinks, squash, sauces, cooking oils, washing up liquid, shampoo and conditioner, shower gel, garden products and car products
Stuart Foster, CEO of RECOUP, said: “It’s common knowledge that you can, and should, recycle plastic bottles used for water, fizzy drinks and juice. Our insights, however, indicate that when it comes to plastic bottles for shampoo, household cleaners and bleach, cooking oil, table sauces, moisturiser and garden & car products, recycling levels are much lower. This drops further when it comes to things like butter tubs, fruit punnets and yoghurt pots."

“The aim of this video is to educate people in a really digestible format, showing examples of what kinds of plastics can be recycled – and, importantly, the diverse range of things they could become afterwards. We hope this surprising information will encourage people to share the video and, in turn, recycle more of their household plastics."

“Of course, your plastic bottles, trays, tubs and pots could simply become more plastic bottles, trays, tubs and pots – but they can also become anything from clothing and toys to building materials, such as fencing and piping.”

Jonathan Porritt, environmentalist and writer said: “These transformative examples show the wide variety of possibilities surrounding how recycled plastic can touch so many areas of our lives, without us even knowing about it."

“What an amazing material – plastic packaging coming back as your favourite football club’s shirt, your child’s toy, and even as parts of your car. Not to forget that it can be used in building products, paint pots ... the list is almost endless! Recycling plastic really does work, and the recyclers want more of your plastics – just make sure you follow your Council’s instructions about what their facilities can accept for recycling."


  1. As you pointed out in your post, this is all really a waste of time as far as the East London Waste Authority is concerned.

    It isn't just the very restrictive range of products that can be recycled - milk bottles, yes, but not the tops because "These cannot be recycled" (because our recycling system is completely out of date).

    The short list of acceptable items is completely outweighed by the very long list of (perfectly recyclable) items which must not, under any circumstances be included in the recycling box and sends out a very clear 'Don't even bother' message to many people.

    When will the ELWA realise that we are now in the 21st century and that their systems are not fit for purpose?

    1. Spot on Knowsie.
      Somebody, somewhere, should put their thinking caps on.
      At one point, I seem to remember, Redbridge was shipping our recyclables to Spain, making use of the return journeys after delivery of Spain-grown fruit and vegs here.
      This does seem to make ecological sense, I must say, but, why are various Councils having different policies?

  2. Lush recycle tops. There is a branch at Westfield.

    1. But my milk bottle tops are type 2, exactly the same as the bottle. I am now thinking on the lines of colour. Perhaps that's the problem? Most plastic bottles are either transparent or semi-transparent but the tops aren't. They're green or red or blue. That said my Domestos bottle isn't transparent and it's blue, so wtf is the bloody problem?

  3. I've just re-read the instructions on Redbridge-i, it says:
    "Please remove all lids and bottle tops from plastic bottles and glass bottles / jars"
    It does not say don't put them in the recycling bin.

    Further on, scrolling down, we get to the reason:
    "Please remove all lids and bottle tops from plastic bottles and glass bottles / jars. These cannot be recycled and can pose a hazard when the bottles are compacted."

    Ah! Lids pinging off in all directions endangering innocent bystanders. Why don't they just shred it?

    My danders up now. ELWA watch out ...