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A layman’s explanation of the common types of waste we need to recycle more

Domestic waste is a huge problem in the UK and with landfill sites running out of room, drastic measures need to be taken. The Government is currently asking for views on how reward schemes might help reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill or, worse, gets into the environment by accident or design.

Here’s our guide to the common types of waste and what can be done to reduce the amount that goes to landfill.


Waste glass has been recycled for decades. The first bottle bank in the UK was set up in 1977, though in America, glass was being recycled way back in the 1940s. Despite glass being easy to recycle, in the UK we only recycle around 50% of our domestic glass – lagging behind countries like Sweden and Finland which recycle 90%, so we need to find more effective ways of encouraging people to dispose of bottles properly. In the UK it used to be common practice to put a deposit on bottles to encourage their return, a practice that some are campaigning to bring back. Deposits on bottles and cans still happens in the USA which gets better recycling figures than we do in the UK.


Aluminium drinks cans can be continually recycled. It’s estimated that if every can that was sold was recycled, the equivalent of a staggering 14 million dustbins’ worth of waste would be diverted from landfill.

Other aluminium products that are commonly recycled are the metal screw tops from bottles, especially wine bottles, aluminium foil and the aluminium trays that a lot of takeaway food comes in. However, with foil and foil trays, you do need to wash them before you put them into the recycling bin.


Waste paper is one of the most common items of domestic waste to be recycled. It is pulped, then used to make other paper products, although the quality of the fibres does degrade in the process. Some recycling facilities won’t take certain types of paper, e.g. wrapping paper and junk mail, though this is because of the risk of contamination from other materials – glitter in the case of wrapping paper, and glue in the case of junk mail. One way of reducing the amount of junk mail that comes through your door in the first place is to register with the Mail Preference Service.


When it comes to plastic waste, things get really complicated. Whilst commonly used as packaging, not all plastic is recyclable. And even when it is possible to recycle the plastics, e.g. polystyrene and cling film, waste is still sent to landfill because it isn’t catered for in recycling plants. This is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of packaging involves mixed recyclables that need to be sent to specialist recycling facilities.

Over the years, the disposal of plastic has become a huge environmental problem – it’s estimated that around 8 million tonnes of plastic gets washed out to sea each year, and you don’t have to search far to come across stories about the cruel and painful way wild animals are dying thanks to our failure to deal properly with this waste.

Now that the full extent of humanity’s plastic detritus has become visible, it has led to some countries taking drastic action to try and curb the environmental impact. Kenya has introduced a complete ban on plastic carrier bags – their manufacture and use – and has introduced massive fines and long prison sentences as a deterrent.

Kitchen and garden waste

Although some councils do kerbside collections of kitchen and garden waste, it is possible to compost a lot of it yourself for reuse in your garden. Check with your council as to the types of waste you can put in your bins as there are different rules for different councils.

When it comes to kitchen waste, the best thing would be to take steps to put less waste in the bin to begin with. That means being more careful and ensure shopping and only buying food you’re going to eat, and making the most of the leftovers. Being less wasteful will also save you money.



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