Recycling Is Confusing, But It Is Very Much Our Responsibility

At first glance, UK households appear to be getting better at recycling. The latest government statistics show that there has been a steady increase from about 40% in 2010 to 45.7% in 2017. While this gradual grow is a positive event, it certainly does not indicate that we are on the brink of recycling revolution. The stats are slightly disappointing, especially that Ipson Mori’s research found seven out of 8 public members were concerned about the environmental impact of plastic and other packaging, but this did not reflect in their willingness to act. So why do UK households not recycle more?

One of the major reasons is a confusion over recycling rules. Most of us are unsure what items can be recycled and it is hardy our fault on the consumer end. Let’s start with labelling on products. The ‘three chasing arrows’ is the most recognisable recycling icon on the packaging.

Universal Recycle

This symbol should suffice that the packaging is generally recyclable. However, a keen eye will notice that there are several variants of this symbol that differ in colour or shape. Subsequently their meaning varies. For example, a number in the middle of three chasing arrows indicates a type of plastic.

According to Wikipedia, the recycling symbol is in the public domain, and is not a trademark. This leaves room for many variations by users. And they do seem to change from company to country. Out of all I find a green dot with two interlocking arrows the most confusing one.

Green Dot

Although it looks green and resembles the ‘three chasing arrows’, it merely signifies that the producer of the packaging makes contributions towards packaging recycling. But it does not mean the packaging itself is recyclable. In overall, there are thirty odd recycling symbols. Learning all the icons might be helpful for employees of recycling centres. But it feels like memorising a new alphabet for the general public.

Further confusion stems from the fact that each council in the UK provides different instructions about recycling. BBC analysis concluded that there are 39 separate sets of rules for what can be put in plastic recycling collections.

And finally, UK households might be responsible for contaminating recycling as most of us are unsure what items go in which bin. This is particularly true about recycling plastic. Although, some of us are not always careful about what we place in recycling bins. These actions cause contamination and make the whole recycling batch unusable. The rule of thumb is that if you put unrecyclable or dirty, unwashed item in your recycling bin you will be writing off that batch of waste for recycling and sending it to a landfill.

To conclude, recycling can be confusing and there is still a lot to be done to raise awareness. But it is important for the environment. It saves energy as it reduces the need for raw materials. It also helps to lower greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to tackle climate change. And if there is one piece of advice I could give, just like politics and religion, avoid bringing up a subject of recycling at a dinner party. As it most likely to spark disagreement amongst your friends or even family members. Still wondering what to recycle? Let Mike the Hyype remind you all about it: