Do you know how recycling and garbage collections work in the UK? Brush up your knowledge and live more sustainably with our helpful guide.Recycling and garbage collection in the UK
As an expat arriving in the UK, you’ll face all sorts of unique challenges in your everyday life. From knowing where to buy postage stamps to finding your nearest hardware store, there are some things you simply need to know. It might not be the most glamorous part of expat life, but knowing how recycling and garbage collections work in the UK is essential.Recycling and garbage collection in the UK
Not only will knowing how and what to recycle help you live more sustainably but understanding how your local collections operate will also ensure the smooth running of your new home in the UK. To give you an idea of what to expect, this guide provides information on the following:
- The recycling system in the UK
- How to recycle in the UK
- Tips for recycling at home
- Food composting in the UK
- Garbage collection in the UK
- Garbage dumps in the UK
- Useful resources
The recycling system in the UK
Like many other European countries, the United Kingdom has made significant improvements to its recycling system in the last couple of decades. According to government statistics for 2018, the UK as a whole recycled 45% of all household waste, down slightly from 45.7% in 2017. A closer look at the data shows there are substantial differences across the country, though, as some parts of the UK recycle more than others. For example, Wales recycled 54.1% of household waste in 2018.Recycling and garbage collection in the UK
When it comes to plastic, the figures are a little different. A BBC investigation found that the UK exported over 600,000 tonnes of recovered plastic packaging in 2018 alone. Much of this ended up in Malaysia, Turkey, and Poland, following the Chinese government’s earlier decision to ban imported plastic scrap that was less than 99.5% pure. However, the issue of exporting recyclable waste abroad is highly controversial, with the industry having links to organized crime and illegal burning.
In a bid to help cut plastic waste, the UK government has introduced several measures to reduce plastic use at a household level, particularly single-use plastics. This includes 2015’s ban on supermarket plastic bags – which saw plastic bag usage drop by 90% – and a ban on plastic straws and servers, due to come into effect in 2020. It’s hoped that these measures, alongside campaigns to reduce plastic use in everyday life, such as supermarket shopping, will help address the UK’s issue with plastic use. For more information on how you can help, read our 10 simple steps to sustainable living in the UK.
How to recycle in the UK
Generally speaking, the vast majority of homes in the UK will have their recycling collected by their local authority on their doorstep. If you live in an apartment building, whether council- or privately-owned, you’ll have a communal recycling point somewhere outside your building where you can leave your recycling. However, rather confusingly for expats and locals alike, what and when you recycle depends entirely on where you live.
Recycling is organized at a local level, meaning household collections and public recycling points are managed by the local authority – and paid for through your local council tax in the UK. This means that recycling requirements can vary substantially even between neighboring areas. When you move into a new home, make sure you check out your local authority’s website for more information. Here, you’ll find out how and what to recycle, as well as when the weekly or fortnightly collections take place. For a more general overview of recycling in the UK, visit Recycle NOw.
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Almost all neighborhoods, towns, and villages in the UK will also have a small roadside recycling center. This is generally located near other public services (such as a library or health center), in a local car park, or at a supermarket. Here, you’ll find glass recycling (bottle banks) alongside other recycling services not available through curbside collection. This includes clothing, shoes, textiles, and even books and CDs. For larger items, you’ll need to visit your nearest Household Waste and Recycling Center, which offers a mix of recycling and garbage services. Unlike other European countries, UK supermarkets don’t have recycling stations for plastic and glass bottles.
Paper and cardboard are widely recycled across the UK, including boxes, newspapers, magazines, and more. You can recycle these as part of your regular curbside recycling collections, ensuring the paper isn’t stained with food, paint, dirt, or anything else. Napkins, sanitary towels, and other hygiene products cannot be recycled. Visit Recycle Now for more information on paper recycline
As plastic use continues to soar across the world, you’ll be pleased to know that it is increasingly recyclable throughout the UK. However, there are many different types of plastic, and not all are equal when it comes to recycling. Most plastic packaging can be recycled from home, while others will need to be taken to a specific collection point.
To know whether you can include a piece of plastic in your recycling collection, you’ll need to know which type of plastic you’re dealing with by checking for any ‘on-pack’ recycling labels. These will show you whether the packaging is recyclable or not. If you plan to recycle plastic, you should ensure it’s clean and all foodstuffs have been properly removed. However, you can’t recycle some plastics, such as cling film (saran wrap), plastic sticky tape, and chemical bottles. For more details on what plastic you can and can’t recycle, check Recycle Now.
Glass is one of the easier things to recycle in the UK, and you’ll be able to recycle most glass containers you acquire during your grocery shopping. Most local authorities will collect glass as part of your recycling collection. You should ensure that all glass bottles and jars are clean before recycling. Alternatively, you’ll find glass recycling facilities (called bottle banks) at your local recycling center.