Majority of people in Britain are unclear about what items can be recycled, poll claims

Lack of understanding potentially costs economy more than £95m per year

Astrid Hall
Wednesday 29 April 2020 16:31 BST
Sweden is amazing at recycling

The average British adult will get through 242 plastic bottles, 109 single-use coffee cups and 209 crisp packets each year with the majority being unclear about which items can be recycled.

Research polling 2,000 UK adults revealed the typical person’s annual rubbish waste also included 378 snack wrappers, 251 cans, and 374 cardboard boxes or paper packets.

It is not just food and drink packaging piling up, as the UK collectively throws away 468 million spray bottles from cleaning products and 520 million shampoo bottles every year.

It was also found that 83 per cent did not know clearly which of these items can and cannot be recycled.

The average person admitted to throwing an estimated 30 per cent of their recyclable items into general waste.

This is potentially costing the economy more than £95m each year, as the recyclable materials which could have been otherwise sold on to manufacturers and generate money for the economy just end up in landfill or are incinerated.

Stefano Rossi, packaging CEO at DS Smith, which commissioned the research, said: “There is an undeniable desire from the public to help with the climate crisis.

“But a lot of packaging is still not recyclable, and people are confused about what packaging goes into which bin.”

The poll also found that when unsure about whether a package can be recycled, 44 per cent preferred to "play it safe" and put it in the general waste bin.

As many as 56 per cent confessed to throwing things away with the general waste despite believing it could be recycled, with 32 per cent of these blaming unclear labelling.

Experts at DS Smith estimate this could be resulting in 2.6 million tonnes of recyclable materials going to landfill each year.

At the other end of the spectrum were "wish-cyclers" - the 30 per cent of people who, faced with uncertainty over whether their boxes, bottles and containers can be recycled, put them in the recycling bin and hope for the best.

But 51 per cent also admitted to putting things in the green waste that cannot be recycled, with 44 per cent of those not knowing where else it should go.

And 21 per cent were hopeful the packaging would be put it in the right bin for them by collectors.

More than one-third have even put something in the recycling bin that still has food and drink on it – which will contaminate the recycling.

But some of these habits could be attributed to laziness, as 16 per cent have put general waste into the recycling simply because it was easier.

More than one-quarter had done the same because they were not paying attention, while 19 per cent rarely or never checked labels before choosing what to do with old packaging.

The poll also found that more than half of all those surveyed, via OnePoll, said the recycling information on packaging was unclear and 32 per cent said there was no clear recycling label to follow.

Further to this, 21 per cent were uncertain about the recycling rules where they live, with 23 per cent admitting they did not know which recycling bins to put rubbish in in the first place.


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