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.
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.
- Water, fizzy drinks and squash
- Sauces and cooking oil
- Shampoo, conditioner and shower gel
- Washing up liquid, bleach and antibacterial spray
- Hand soap (remove the pump and put in your black bin)
- Garden and car products
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.
- Yoghurt pots (all sizes)
- Fruit trays
- Fresh soup or sauce pots
- Margarine or butter tubs
- Dishwasher tablets
Plastic bags and film
Empty, clean and dry film or bags only. Please do not put items inside bags.
- 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
- Thin moulded plastic packaging, such as from toys, batteries or Easter eggs (separate them from any cardboard)
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.
- Squeezy toothpaste tubes – these can be recycled by Terracycle. Find your nearest oral care collection point.
- Plastic and foil pouches, such as from pet food or baby food – these can be recycled by Terracycle, like Ella's Kitchen pouches.
- Biodegradable or compostable plastic (wrap, bags, cutlery or cups) – these cannot go in your green bin or blue bin
- Drinking straws
- Crisp packets with metallic inside – these can be recycled by Terracycle. Find your nearest crisp packet collection point.
- Hard plastic, such as buckets, toys, and storage boxes – check what you can recycle at household recycling centres
- Polystyrene takeaway containers and packaging
Most black plastic packaging can not be recycled. The near infra-red (NIR) sensors we use to sort plastics into different types can not detect it.
Technology to resolve this is developing rapidly, with some manufacturers starting to add special pigments that NIR can detect.
Avoid choosing products packaged in black plastic where possible. Ask producers what they are doing to combat this issue, and be aware that it may not be possible to recycle most black plastics that you put in your blue bin. Those that cannot be recycled will be used to generate energy.
- 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 can recycle it. Please use the information provided above to decide what you can recycle at home. Packaging labels are helpful if you are away 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.
Everything you put in your blue bin is sorted at a recycling facility near Waterbeach.
Plastics are sorted using near infrared 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. The bales 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.
Where does our recycled plastic end up?
Since January 2018, 94.38% of the plastic that has been through the Amey waste management park near Waterbeach has been treated at reprocessing facilities in the UK. This includes all the plastic from your blue bins.
The remaining 5.62% of plastics were exported to either The Netherlands or Spain. Both sites in those countries are fully permitted and operate to stringent environmental conditions.
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
- Store leftovers in Tupperware (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
There is lots more information online about ‘going plastic-free’ – but even making one or two simple changes can make a big difference to how much you put in your bins. You may like to pledge to take part in Zero Waste Week in September, or Plastic Free July.
If you want to help with our campaign, please share posts from @gtrcamrecycles on Facebook or Twitter.
You can also download a plastic recycling poster [PDF, 2MB] to put up in your window. We have created localised versions of the poster for residents of Cherry Hinton [PDF, 5MB] and Trumpington [PDF, 5MB].