Customers admit they are confused by plastic recycling rules

Recycling Bins

A recent poll has uncovered much confusion among British consumers concerning exactly what items are appropriate for plastic waste recycling, with mobile phones, disposable coffee cups and plastic wrapping topping the list for causing the most uncertainty.

Communication problems

The situation is made even more frustrating for 63 per cent of householders, thanks to the different rules and collection methods used by different councils, such as differently coloured bins. For example, many councils do not offer home collection of glass recycling but can recycle glass nonetheless if it is taken to a local recycling centre.

Communication may be the primary issue at hand – three-quarters of the 1,500 UK citizens surveyed claimed they would welcome a greater degree of transparency about the end uses of their recycled plastic. The poll also uncovered a generally low level of public trust in the local authorities, whose responsibility it is to oversee recycling and waste collection.

Over 40 percent of those polled stated that they weren’t even sure on which day they were meant to put their bins out. This is further complicated by the fact that many local authorities collect recycling on different days to regular household waste.

Certain objects caused particular confusion amongst consumers attempting to recycle. Over 55 percent expressed general confusion over whether cellophane-like thin plastic packaging could be recycled. 52 percent voiced their doubt over the ability to recycle mobile phones and disposable coffee cups. Light bulbs and crisp packets also ranked highly for consumer concern.

Disposable coffee cups are generally not recyclable due to contamination from the coffee. The BBC recently discovered that 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year, a sizeable proportion of which end up in recycling bins. Despite consumers’ hearts being in the right place, just one non-recyclable item in a recycling bin effectively contaminates the entire bin, leading to an expensive and time-consuming re-sorting process at the recycling centre.

plastic recycling

A silver lining?

However, it’s not all bad news. The results of the survey suggest that broadly speaking, people all over the country want to recycle more of their waste, and realise the importance of local plastic waste recycling schemes.

The key to successfully channelling this desire, according to some recycling industry leaders, is to put in place better support and systems, to make sure that consumers place the right items in the right bin every time. Elevated levels of communication and transparency in the waste and recycling sectors are also thought to be crucial for generating confidence in local authorities amongst consumers.

Some in the industry have also called for new labelling guidelines for packaging, to make it clearer for consumers what can and cannot be recycled. Relating these labels to local collection services could help local authorities to boost recycling rates whilst minimising rejection rates at the sorting centres.

A brighter future

Overall, the future looks bright – a view shared by the industry as much as by consumers. According to the survey, the majority of British consumers believe that the amount of household waste being recycled can be increased over five years from 45 percent to 65 percent. The same consumers are aware of the role that they need to play in achieving this goal.

English EN Dutch NL French FR German DE Italian IT Spanish ES