There's a lot about pastic recycling that can be confusing, such as what types of plastic we recycle.  We hope the following information will help to address some of your questions about plastics.

Why is plastic recycling so confusing?

Although we use the term 'plastic' as a generic term there are actually lots of different types.  These must be separated before they can be recycled.  Some types of plastic are easier to identify and recycle than others and the markets for some types of plastics (eg plastic bottles) are better than others.

What kinds of plastic can I recycle?

We collect any plastic bottle and also pots, tubs and trays used to hold food.  If you're not sure whether you can recycle it, ask your self the following questions ...

Is it a plastic bottle? If yes, then you can recycle it
(Examples of plastic bottles include milk bottles, squash bottles, cleaning bottles, bleach bottles, spray bottles (no need to remove the dispenser), hand pumps (you do need to remove the dispensers on these as they contain a metal spring) and shampoo bottles)
Or ...
Is it used to hold food ?
If yes, then is it also a pot, tub or tray?
  If you answer yes to both these questions you can recycle it.
(Examples of plastic pots, tubs and trays that can be recycled include yoghurt pots, margarine and ice-cream tubs, fruit punnets, take away trays, cake trays, meat and vegetable trays).

We do not collect any other types of plastic regardless of what it may say on the label.

Plastic that we cannot recycle:
No black plastic
No plastic film (eg plastic bags, clingfilm, crisp wrappers)
No hard plastic (eg plastic toys, furniture, plant pots)
No polystyrene

Why can't we recycle black plastic?

The plastic we collect for recycling needs to be separated by lasers before it can be recycled.  The black plastic contains carbon which stops the lasers being able to identify it.  Trials are underway to develop alternative types of black plastic that are easier to identify.  In the meantime, try to use alternatives to black plastic whenever you can.  For more information please click on the following link; WRAP information on recycling black plastic.

What's happening with plastic in China?

All recycling materials you separate and we collect from you are sold in the global markets.  We have sustainable recycling markets for these materials and these are traded with environmentally responsible accredited reprocessors (factories).

China has not banned all plastic but they want better quality material – so it is now more important than ever that we provide only sorted plastic bottles plus pots, tubs and trays used to contain food, and do not collect plastic items we can’t recycle such as black plastic, plastic film and polystyrene.

The following link has more information on plastic recycling and China: Parliament written statement

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What kind of bag is best for the environment?

We hear of different types of plastic with different types of degradability - is that a good thing or not? What about paper bags versus plastic bags versus cotton or jute bags - which are best? We hope this quick summary will help you.

Plastic bags
Pros - can use less energy than some other types of bag, can be recycled at some supermarkets, can be reused
Cons - made from non renewable resources, usually designed for single use, damaging to the environment if not diposed of properly
Degradable plastic bags
Pros - can reduce space in landfill once broken down
Cons - gives off methane when breaking down in landfill sites, cannot be recycled with other plastics, unsuitable for reuse, the impact of the broken down plastic can be damaging to the environment
Cotton or jute bags
Pros - Designed for reuse, long lasting, can be recyled as textiles
Cons - energy intensive to make, gives off methane when breaking down in landfill sites
Paper bags
Pros - made from renewable resources, may be suitable for composting
Cons - more energy intensive than plastic bags to make, not suitable for reuse, gives off methane when breaking down in landfill sites

Degradable plastic

Most types of plastic that are classed as degradable break down into tiny pieces of plastic - the plastic does not disappear - it just becomes smaller and can still potentially be a hazard for the environment.  These are the 3 main types:

Degradable plastic
This may have chemicals added to help it break down into smaller pieces quicker, for example the plastic may become brittle and crumble when exposed to light.
Biodegradable
This type of plastic can be broken down by micro-organisms although petroleum based plastic will still just break down into smaller pieces.
Compostable
This will break down under composting conditions and is usually made of natrural materials such as potato starch.

Please note that you cannot put compostable items (eg cutlery and plates) in the food waste or garden waste collection - they are classed as contaminants and interfere with the recycling process. Where possible we recommend that you use re-usable items instead.

To read more, please go to:

What can I do if I'm concerned about the impact of plastic?

  • A lot of people are trying to reduce the amount of single use plastic that they use.  Here are a few ideas to help you ...
  • Use re-usable carrier bags instead of one off plastic bags.
  • If you do use plastic carrier bags, make sure you re-use them.  Some large supermarkets provide facilities for recycling them. see table below. Please email us at wastecampaigns@bathnes.gov.uk if you know of more to add to the list.

Supermarkets with plastic bag recycling points

Supermarket Location
Marks & Spencers food hall Bath
Morrisons Bath
Sainsbury's Green Park, Bath
Tesco Keynsham
Waitrose Keynsham
  • Choose a re-usable cup for your take-away coffees rather than disposable ones.  Some coffee shops offer discounts for customers bringing their own cups.
  • Take your own water bottle around with you rather than buying a new plastic bottle.  To find out more about how you can refill your water bottle for free, please follow the link to Bath Refill.
  • Say no to plastic straws.
  • Buy fruit and vegetables loose wherever possible and reuse plastic bags for smaller items.
  • Choose refillable containers where you can.  Some shops sell cleaning products that can be refilled when empty.
  • Bring refillable containers when you do your shopping.  Some shops will happily fill your own container, so you could ask your sandwich shop, butcher or delicatessen whether you could use your own containers instead.
  • Look out for re-usable alternatives to disposable products such as razors, pens and nappies.
  • If you're having a party, hire glasses instead of buying disposable ones - many supermarkets offer this facility
  • Make sure you don't release balloons into the sky - they will land as litter somewhere far away and may even land in our oceans.  Keep hold of them - take them home or throw them away in a litter bin
  • Avoid glitter and items that contain decorative glitter (eg make-up and even some suncreams) as glitter is made from plastic
  • For more information, please click on the following links ...
  • WRAP - redefining plastic
  • Recycle Now plastic planet campaign
  • City to Sea
  • Pledge for plastics recycling campaign

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