New study finds British people are unsure what items are recyclable


Research from the British Science Association (BSA) has found that people in Britain are not 100% sure on what can and can’t be recycled. 

BSA recently surveyed 2,000 people from across the UK on recycling in the hope of encouraging the nation to stop plastic waste by participating in the citizen science project ‘The Plastic Tide’.  


According to the research, eight out of ten people said that recycling makes a difference, but when quizzed on what items can be recycled, no one scored full marks. 

While the results found that more people in Britain are more aware than ever about how recycling can impact the planet, the majority are putting out contamination recycling due to misunderstandings.  

Products including used kitchen roll, soap dispenser tops, shiny/metallised wrapping paper and coffee cups were items people wrongly believe you can recycle.  

When people answered “unsure” about whether an item can or cannot be recycled, only 33% take the time to look it up before throwing it in the correct bin.  

The top reason provided by people who said they don’t recycle all they can was down to not being sure what they can and can’t recycle.  

Top items which Brits across all age groups wrongly thought they could put in the recycle bin include: 

  1. Soap pump dispenser tops (44%) 
  2. Used kitchen roll (34%) 
  3. Shiny/metallised wrapping paper (26%) 
  4. Coffee cups (24%) 
  5. Glass that isn’t a bottle or jar e.g. window glass (23%) 
  6. Plastic bags (22%) 
  7. Straws (21%) 
  8. Greasy takeaway pizza boxes (21%)  
  9. Soft plastic / metallic packaging like pet food pouches (19%) 
  10. Photo paper (18.50%) 

 The top items which Bris didn’t know they can recycle include:  

  1. Kitchen foil and foil trays which are used but still clean (66%)
  2. Empty deodorant aerosols and hairspray with the plastic cap (58%)
  3. Empty surface cleaner bottle with the trigger spray (57%) 
  4. Metal lids (56%) 
  5. Empty bleach bottles (51%) 

BSA head of engagement Ivvet Modinou said: It’s encouraging to see lots of people are concerned about plastic waste, but what you can and can’t put in the recycle bin can often be confusing. The industry as a whole needs to address this issue if we are to collectively improve recycling performance.  

“For instance, manufacturers of plastic products could provide clearer information on packaging and local councils should be actively working to improve guidance for local residents. In addition, small, individual actions can really make a difference – such as asking your local cafe not to stock plastic straws – or checking the back of packaging for recycling information.” 


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