Discover the things you thought you could recycle but can’t – and the ones you never knew you could

Here are the unexpected facts about local recycling, plus the items you should never put into your recycling bin

Plastic water bottle waste
(Image credit: Getty)

Are you consumed by doubt whenever you sort your recycling? How much of it will be recycled? Can an item be recycled at all? Last month we reported on the difficulties caused by unwashed containers being put in recycling. But how aware are you of items that may seem to be recyclable, but aren’t? 

Many of us find the complex rules about recycling bewildering, with nine out of ten people saying they would recycle more if only it were more straightforward.

By far the most common item put into recycling bins that can’t be recycled is a paper coffee cup. That’s right, you can’t recycle these. Although made from paper, single-use coffee cups are coated in a thin layer of plastic (which is what prevents them from leaking), so it’s not just the plastic lids that are environmentally unfriendly. Reusable coffee cups are widely available and the way to go if you love your takeaway coffee. 

Next up are crisp packets and Pringle tubes. Both of these crisp packaging options are non-recyclable because they’re made with composite materials (plastic lined with foil). Last year, people were sending empty crisp packets back to Walkers as a form of protest – in such huge numbers that Royal Mail ended up begging them to stop. Walkers is now running its own packet recycling scheme, with crisp packets being made into plant pots and park benches. 

Empty toothpaste tubes are another recycling nightmare. With different parts of the tube made from different types of plastic, pulling them apart is a tricky task for councils. Fortunately, toothpaste in glass packaging is becoming more widely available with Georganics leading the way. 

Used tissues and paper towels are also non-recyclable, as are empty tissue boxes where the plastic bit hasn’t been removed. The same applies to paper packaging that has a shiny lining.

And what about the things you probably thought you couldn’t recycle, but can? Rejoice: empty cleaning sprays can be recycled in their entirety, as can empty aluminium tubes (think tomato purée). The same goes for used kitchen foil, if it has been washed clean. 

Want to ditch plastic? We have 10 ways to reduce your plastic waste