Monday 14 October 2019

Aspirational recyclers: Many fail to follow the 'clean, dry, loose' mantra

Doing it right: Reporter Aine Kenny recycling her bottles in Sandymount, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Doing it right: Reporter Aine Kenny recycling her bottles in Sandymount, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Aine Kenny

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. Often, this is not the case.

If recyclable material is contaminated by food residue or is mixed in with so much unrecyclable material, it ends up in landfill, according to Laura Sherry, head of marketing and communications at Repak.

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

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

The plastic coating around the paper cup is difficult to break down. The good news is that keep cups are inexpensive, and the majority of coffee shops offer a discount for people who bring their own mug.

Another recycling mistake is not cleaning off food containers before putting them in the green bin. While its 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 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. Penneys has started selling the sustainable alternative.

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

If recyclable material is severely contaminated, it has to be sent to landfill.

The two things that are always put into recycling that don't belong there, according to Ms Sherry, are quite surprising.

"Nappies are a huge problem for us in recycling," she said.

Obviously nappies cannot be recycled and they contaminate the other products.

Plastic bags are another issue.

"You are not supposed to put your recycling into a bin-liner bag because these bags can get stuck in machinery.

"Recycling has to be loose," Ms Sherry added.

Irish Independent

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