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Recycling in the UK: Who does it best?

Over the course of the UK’s lockdown and local restrictions, searches for ‘how to recycle’ have increased by 21%. It’s also been reported that eight in 10 Brits believe recycling makes a difference, so it’s clear that people are taking an active approach in caring for the environment.

But do we really know what we are doing when it comes to recycling?

Boiler Plan has surveyed the British public to reveal if we know how to recycle, which region does it best and even the dos and don’ts of recycling.

1 in 8 Brits knowingly under recycle

While 67% of the people surveyed said they know how to recycle all items in their house, a staggering 1 in 8 (12%) said that they know they should do this more than they already do. This could be due to a lack of understanding on what to recycle, for example, the current recycle rate for England sits at 44.7%, below the target of 50% for 2020.

This rate has actually dropped by 0.5% on the previous year, suggesting that people could be recycling less.

A fifth of Brits don’t understand how to recycle properly

Digging deeper into the data, we can see that a fifth (20%) of Brits surveyed don’t understand how to recycle properly. That includes not being able to read recycling labels, not knowing how to recycle larger household items and even binning items that could be recycled because they are unsure.

4% aren’t sure how to recycle large household items, such as boilers

While we recycle larger household items less than smaller objects – such as bottles – it’s important to understand where these should go. An old boiler, for instance, is classed as commercial waste and, therefore, cannot be disposed of like you would other recycling. So, if 4% are unsure of this, it could mean that items that shouldn’t be in common recycling end up there, contaminating other items.

Surprisingly, the worst age group for recycling is those between 25-34. Only 59% said they know how to recycle all items in their house, compared to 77% of those aged over 65. But it’s Brits aged between 18-24 who stated that they know they could recycle more, with 19% saying they don’t do enough.

Women are better at recycling than men

According to the survey, more women are recycling than men. 70% of women stated that they knew how to recycle all items in their house - which includes larger items, such as boilers - compared to 69% of men. While this is a small difference, more men also knew they should recycle more than women.

12% of men said they knowingly under recycle, compared to 9% of women. This could be due to a number of reasons. For instance, a recent study found that 93% of women did the majority of household chores of the couples analysed. 

Yorkshire residents think they recycle best but it’s the South West that has the highest rate in the country

83% of those surveyed from Yorkshire and the Humber said they knew how to recycle all items in their house, with only 14% going on to say that they know they should do it more. But, if we were to look at the recycling rates across England, the South West comes on top.

Yorkshire and the Humber actually has a very low recycling rate and are eighth overall across the UK (out of 12 regions).

The South West has the highest, latest recorded recycling rate in the country at 50.1% - that’s more than the average for the entire UK. But only 77% in the region believe they recycle the right things.

London has the worst recycling rate in the country

London might have the worst recycling rate in England at just 33.4% - significantly lower than the South West - but 71% of those living in the capital believe they know how to dispose of their household items. A further 9% said they know they should do it more, suggesting people don’t actually understand how to get rid of items as well as they think they do.

However, the low rate in London could also mean that there are less options for people to recycle if they live in heavily populated areas.

In London, 43% of residents live in flats. This is over 30% more than the average rate for people living in flats across the UK at 9.8%. So, it could mean that there are less opportunities to recycle.

With the recent estimation that the number of renters will increase by 122% in the next decade, it’s important that people know exactly what can and can’t be recycled to start encouraging people to do so.

5 items you didn’t know you could recycle

Almost two thirds (73%) of Brits have said they are willing to make lifestyle changes to help the environment and knowing what you can recycle is one way to do that.

1.   Kitchen foil and foil trays

In a recent survey, a staggering two-thirds stated they didn’t know they could recycle kitchen foil. But you can. Before you recycle your kitchen foil and trays, wash them alongside your regular washing up. Once done, scrunch them up into a large ball if possible, as this makes them easier to recycle.

2.   Aerosols

58% don’t realise you can recycle aerosols and hairspray with their plastic top. You can - just make sure they are empty before you do so. As recycling does differ between local authorities, however, you can check online or ring them to find out which items they do accept. You can also use Recycle Now and enter your postcode, and it will tell you what you can and can’t recycle in your area.

3.   Empty bleach bottles

Bleach bottles are another household item that can be recycled, but 51% don’t know this, likely due to the contents within the bottle. But it is safe to recycle them, you just need to ensure the bottle is empty and pop the lid back on.

4.   Tennis balls

There are over 51 million pets in the UK, which means there are a lot of tennis balls. Rather than chuck them in the bin, however, you can recycle your old tennis balls via a number of services. Some even donate them to animal shelters.  

5.   Electronics including toasters, irons and mobile phones

In the UK, the average person buys three new electrical items each year. But only a small fraction of those are recycled. Did you know that a recycled iron could make 13 steel cans? Once you are done with your unwanted electricals, ring up or check online with your local council who can direct you to the best place to get rid of them - such as recycling centres

5 household items you can’t put in your recycling but can recycle elsewhere

In the past year, there have been over 1 million fly-tipping incidents in the UK, with £694 million spent on street cleaning alone.

With that in mind, we are sharing the don’ts of recycling - including both large and small household items.

1.   Boilers

As mentioned above, your boiler is considered commercial waste as opposed to household waste, which makes getting rid of it that little bit harder. Boilers can contain dangerous substances if they are particularly old, such as asbestos, so you won’t be able to take it to your local tip. But there are a few options you can look at.

First, speak to your local council to see if they will take it. This is known as ‘bulky waste collection’ and can cost up to £20 per item. Or you could speak to a local scrap yard. In some cases, you could get over £100 if you have copper piping as well as the metal.

If you have any other large items, such as white goods, it’s always best to ring up your local council or recycling centre to check for the best way to dispose of them. Their opening hours might have changed due to the restrictions, so it’s best to contact them in advance.

2.   Loft and wall Insulation

This type of insulation could be recycled but it can’t be put straight into your household recycling bin. You will need to bag your insulation up safely - particularly if it is fibreglass - and contact your local authority. They will be able to direct you to the best place to recycle, such as a recycling centre. In some cases, they could even direct you to a materials disposing site, but you may have to pay a small fee to dispose of your insulation, so it’s best to double-check.

3.   Paper receipts

You might find that you’re holding a large number of paper receipts. But not all of them can be recycled. If you have shiny receipts, that means they are coated with a substance bisphenol A (BPA) or bisphenol S (BPS). This is hugely damaging to the environment and, therefore, can’t be recycled. If possible, ask for an email receipt while shopping.

4.   Used kitchen roll

You might think that by using a sheet of kitchen roll and then placing it in your recycling bin, you are doing the right thing - but it’s not. Used kitchen rolls should always be disposed of in your household bin, with the cardboard tube only placed within your recycling.

5.   Hand sanitiser pump dispensers

Due to the pandemic, we have seen a 255% increase in the sales for hand sanitiser. But that could also mean that many more don’t know how to correctly recycle them. While many of the soap bottles can be recycled, the pumps can’t. You will need to put them in your household waste.

Managing Director at Boiler Plan, Ian Henderson, said: “It’s great to see that so many people are confident in their recycling abilities, but it’s important to continue educating people on the dos and don’ts of recycling - such as with large household items, including boilers. If we can help encourage people to continue recycling and learn something, we have done our job.”

If you are feeling encouraged and would like more tips on looking after your home, as well as how to save money on your energy bills, you can find more help in our Advice Centre.