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Plastic recycling

Most people in Cambridge are recycling plastic, but we know it can be confusing which plastics you can recycle. You’ve also told us it’s not clear how you should prepare plastic for recycling.

Jump to: Recyclable plastic | Non-recyclable plastic | Further information | Recycling process | Reduce the amount of plastic you use

Recyclable plastic

Plastic bottles

All household plastic bottles can be recycled – just rinse, empty, and squash them, and put the lid or spray trigger back on.

It’s important to empty liquids out, as these make the bottles too heavy to be sorted correctly. During the sorting process bottles are moved onto different conveyors depending on what kind of plastic they are; this is done by blasting them with jets of air.

You can recycle bottles from:

  • Water, fizzy drinks and squash
  • Sauces and cooking oil
  • Shampoo, conditioner and shower gel
  • Washing up liquid, bleach and antibacterial spray
  • Hand soap (put the pump in your black bin)

Plastic pots, tubs and trays

Remove any film and bubble wrap – you can recycle these, too. If there’s an absorbent layer, it needs to go in your black bin. Wash the plastic and shake off any excess water.

You can recycle:

  • Yoghurt pots (all sizes)
  • Fruit trays
  • Fresh soup or sauce pots
  • Margarine or butter tubs
  • Dishwasher tablets
  • Thin moulded plastic packaging, such as from toys, batteries or Easter eggs – separate them from any cardboard

Plastic bags and film

Empty, clean and dry film or bags only. Please do not put items inside bags.

You can recycle bags or film from:

  • Bread or baked goods
  • Magazine or mail wrapping (unless it’s compostable)
  • Cereal packet inner bags
  • Carrier bags
  • Multipack wrapping, such as from toilet rolls or baked bean tins
  • Cling film
  • Peel-off lids, such as from fruit punnets

Market conditions dictate that the plastic films collected can not always be recycled into new products. When recycling is not possible, films are used to generate energy instead.

All of the above are accepted in the Co-operative soft plastics recycling scheme at participating stores.

Plastic that can’t go in your blue bin

These items should be put in your black bin, except where stated otherwise.

Check what goes in which bin or what you can recycle at household recycling centres for more information.

Further information

  • You can recycle many plastic items that are labelled ‘not currently recycled’
  • You don’t need to remove labels
  • The numbers used to indicate the type of plastic are not a good guide to whether it can be recycled

Some plastic says ‘not currently recycled’ on the packaging. Symbols like these are designed to give a consistent message about which packaging can be easily recycled across the UK. However, they are just a guide, as recycling facilities vary from place to place. The label is used on packaging which more than 80% of councils do not collect, such as plastic film. We are in the 20% which do collect it. Please use the information provided above to decide what you can recycle at home. Packaging labels are helpful if you are away from home and not familiar with local collections.

Labels can be removed during the recycling process. It is helpful to separate different materials though – like removing film lids from punnets, and separating plastic packaging from cardboard.

Some manufacturers label plastic with numbers to indicate the polymer it’s made from, such as PET 1 (used in fizzy drink bottles) or HDPE 2 (used for milk bottles). These aren’t always helpful for deciding whether an item can be recycled locally, because even items made from the same polymer might need to be dealt with differently. For example, yoghurt pots (accepted in the blue bin) are often made from type 6, which is the same polymer used to make polystyrene packaging (not accepted) – but it has undergone a different process. For this reason, descriptions of items are a better way to explain what can be recycled in the blue bin.

The recycling process

All materials from your blue bins are sorted at the materials recycling facility (MRF) at the Amey Waste Management Park near Waterbeach.

Plastics are sorted using near-infrared (NIR) optical sorters to identify the different plastic types. These are separated by blasting each item with a precise jet of air to push it onto the correct conveyor belt.

Plastics of each type are then pressed into bales to be transported to specialist plastics reprocessors, mainly in the UK. They are then cleaned, shredded and made into pellets ready to sell to manufacturers. Plastic can end up as new bottles, other products such as guttering or picnic benches, and even fleece clothing.

Our contract with Amey states that UK markets should be given preference where possible. More than 97% of the recyclable plastic that the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste service collects is sent to UK reprocessors for recycling.

The remaining material that is exported is fully tracked in accordance with strict guidance from Defra, and recorded on the national Waste Data Flow website. Materials are only sent to sites that have a permit to recycle them legally.

Reduce the amount of plastic you use

It’s always best to reduce and reuse before you recycle. You could reduce your plastic footprint by trying to:

  • Refill a bottle with tap water instead of buying bottled water
  • Remember to take carrier bags to the shops
  • Choose products with less packaging, or recyclable packaging
  • Make a packed lunch instead of buying convenience food
  • Reduce waste by buying from refill shops
  • Store leftovers in a sealable container (or just a bowl with a plate on top) instead of using cling film
  • Ask for no straw in restaurants
  • Use a washable cloth and spray cleaner instead of disposable cleaning wipes
  • Use washable baby wipes or nappies

You could take part in the annual international Plastic Free July, teaming up with 250 million people around the world to support each other to change small habits to reduce plastic waste – together making a big difference.

For more in-depth information to cut the confusion around plastics and plastic recycling, visit Clear On Plastics.