What you can (and can’t) recycle

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When it comes to recycling, it pays to know your dos from your don’ts. Quite often, people (understandably) assume that all coffee cups and plastic bags can be recycled – but that’s not actually the case. Here, with the help of Bristol Waste, we untangle the sometimes tricky rules about what you can and can’t recycle.


Recycling cardboard and cartons

In your cardboard recycling bin, it’s a yes for:

  • All cardboard and brown paper packaging
  • All food and drink cartons (that includes tetra packs)
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Greetings cards*
  • Toilet roll and paper towel tubes


But you can’t put these in your cardboard recycling bin:

  • Card with parcel tape on (just rip it off!)
  • Plastic packaging
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cling film
  • Plastic bags


Psst: always remember to rinse your cartons out well – residual food contaminates the whole recycling load – not just yours. Sometimes, that means the load is diverted to landfill. A quick rinse and a rub means your recycling efforts don’t go to waste.


Recycling paper

The paper recycling bin has a purpose: to recreate paper for printing newspapers and magazines. That means coloured paper and cardboard have to go in the cardboard bin.

You can recycle:

  • White paper
  • Telephone directories and paperback books (although those could get a new lease of life at Oxfam!)
  • Newspapers and junk mail
  • Catalogues
  • Magazines


But avoid:

  • Cardboard
  • Plastic junk mail wrappers
  • Hardback books
  • Foil wrapping paper
  • Tissues, kitchen roll, wet wipes

Here’s a tip: shredded paper can be recycled – just pop it in a paper bag or an envelope.


Recycling glass

This one’s quite simple.

Here’s what to chuck in the glass recycling bin:

  • Glass bottles – any colour
  • Glass jars – also any colour


But leave these out:

  • Light bulbs
  • Broken glass
  • Window glass
  • Drinking glasses
  • Pyrex
  • China and crockery


If you like in a communal building, like a block of flats, and have separate bins for clear, brown and green glass then just give Bristol Waste a nudge. They’ll swap them for mixed glass bins (as long as you live in Bristol, of course).


Recycling plastic

Recycling plastic is a little less clear, but here are the facts.


Do recycle:

  • Pots, trays and tubs
  • Drinks bottles (including milk bottles)
  • Condiments bottles, like ketchup, honey, Marmite and mayonnaise
  • Yoghurt pots
  • Ready meal trays
  • Margarine tubs
  • Ice cream tubs
  • Food trays
  • Washing up liquid bottles
  • Bleach bottles
  • Surface cleaners – that includes spray bottles
  • Shampoo bottles
  • Moisturiser tubs and tubes
  • Cosmetic tubs and tubes


But you can’t recycle:

  • BLACK plastic trays, bottles and tubs
  • Plastic carrier bags – just reuse them if you have them
  • Bin liners
  • Polystyrene
  • Crisp packets
  • Pet food pouches
  • Egg trays
  • Cling film and cellophane
  • Bubble wrap
  • Hard plastics, like DVD cases
  • Netting from fruits like oranges and lemons


Why can’t I recycle black plastic?

Sounds strange, but it’s quite simple: the reprocessor’s machinery isn’t able to detect it, and can’t sort it from other colours.


Recycling cans and foil

Do recycle:

  • All food and drink cans
  • Foil and takeaway trays
  • Aerosol cans – as long as they’re empty
  • Metal lids


But leave out:

  • Unfinished aerosol cans
  • Dirty cans
  • Dirty foil


As a general rule of thumb, just give it all a rinse before chucking it in the recycling bin.


Bristol Waste has a lot of useful resources for anyone in the area who’s not quite sure what they can and can’t recycle. You can check out their full library here, or specifically read about Mini Recycling Centre dos and don’ts here.