Tuesday 23 July 2019

How you're recycling plastic all wrong - and you could just be an 'aspirational recycler'

Stock picture
Stock picture

Áine Kenny

Many people are recycling plastic incorrectly, and it is having a detrimental impact on the environment, according to the experts.

Do you try your best at recycling, but sometimes don't bother cleaning out plastic food containers? Do you often throw soft plastic sweet wrappers in with your cereal boxes?

If so, you are an "aspirational recycler".

According to environmentalists, many people throw materials in the recycling bin which they know can't be recycled, but they assume that someone else will sort out the non-recyclable materials from the recyclables.

But often, this is not the case.

If recyclable material is contaminated by food residue, or is mixed in with so much unrecyclable material, your efforts have gone to waste and it ends up in landfill, according to Repak's Head of Marketing and Communications Laura Sherry.

Stock Image: GETTY
Stock Image: GETTY

Furthermore, many people are recycling coffee cups, toothpaste and food containers incorrectly.

Ms Sherry said that when recycling, "clean, dry and loose" is the mantra.

"All material that goes into recycling should be clean, dry and loose. So if there's food or residue on some materials, it can contaminate the others," Ms Sherry told Independent.ie.

Ms Sherry said there is generally confusion about plastic bags.

"You are not supposed to recycle soft plastic bags. And you're not to put your recycling into a bin liner bag because these bags can get stuck in machinery. Recycling has to be loose," Ms Sherry said.

"Nappies are a huge problem for us in recycling," she continued, adding that nappies obviously contaminate the other products.

It is also important to note that by recycling incorrectly, there is more waste and more work for other people.

Ms Sherry said people should be mindful of what they put into their bins.

"It's humans that go through this waste at certain stages, it's not all machines," she added.

Top tips:

Coffee cups

Coffee cups have received a lot of bad press recently, and Ireland is one of the biggest culprits of opting for non-reusable cups.

But confusion remains: can these cups be recycled? The answer is no to the majority of cups, not currently at least.

This is mainly due to the plastic coating around the paper cup, which is difficult to break down.

Food containers

Another recycling mistake is not cleaning off food containers before putting them in the green bin. While it's tempting to throw away your curry-stained box without rinsing, the sauce can leak onto other materials, leaving them unrecyclable.

Always wash your plastics beforehand, because there is no one in the recycling plant to wash them for you.

Toothpaste and toothbrushes

Toothpaste and toothbrushes are another sticking point for eco-campaigners. The toothpaste tubes are made up of a composite of plastics, making them hard to break down. The toothbrush itself is plastic, and is difficult to recycle.

Switching to a bamboo toothbrush means less single-use plastics go into the ground.

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