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At the ‘Waste not, want not’ event we held in May 2011 it became apparent that most of us did not understand what plastics could be recycled, and indeed many of us were simply putting any plastic item marked with the

recycling symbol into the plastics and cans recycling bag from Veolia. We hope this article clarifies the situation.

All plastics can be recycled; however the extent to which they are recycled depends upon both the economics of the process for recycling each particular plastic, and the market for that recycled product. Currently in the UK about 25% of all plastic waste is recycled. In particular, for household waste, normally only plastic bottles are recycled, and that situation applies to us in West Berkshire. Some areas in the UK (for example East Herts) are beginning to accept most types of plastic and we hope that will apply to us in due course as Veolia increase recycling rates of all waste from the current 40% to the target of 70%. But for now, it’s in all our interests for the recycling process to be as efficient as possible, so please only put out plastic bottles (regardless of what they originally contained) and without their tops. Currently all other plastics (including yoghurt cartons, clear fruit containers etc.) can NOT be recycled and should be put into your wheelie bin.

For those who would like the details.…..

There is no mandatory requirement for manufacturers to mark plastic items as an aid to recycling but it is a recommended practice.  The recycling symbol is used, together with a number (1 to 7) and lettering, to identify the type of plastic with which a particular item is made.

Most plastic bottles are made of either Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) and carry the symbol

(note the ‘PETE’ is often abbreviated to ‘PET’)

or High-density polyethylene (HDPE) with the symbol

These 2 plastics can be readily separated from each other by chipping into small pieces and putting into water.  PETE is appreciably denser that water and the chips will sink, whereas HDPE (despite its name) is less dense than water and will of course float. Thus there is an economic process for producing quantities of single types of plastic, ready for re-use. But note that bottle tops are made of different plastics so should be removed before putting out bottles for recycling.

Recycling of plastics is a fast improving science, with new technologies being introduced to allow automatic sorting of most plastics (at present most sorting is manual apart from the PETE/HDPE process mentioned above). We expect to see significant improvements in the near future.