We recycle plastic

We recycle plastic

Most people in South Cambridgeshire are recycling plastic, but many residents tell us they are confused about which plastics can be recycled, and how they need to prepare them for recycling.

So, our new campaign aims to cut the confusion...

What plastics can be recycled in the blue bin?

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

For example:

  • Bread or baked goods
  • Magazine or junk mail wrapping (not if compostable)
  • Cereal packet inners
  • Carrier bags
  • Multipack wrap e.g. form toilet roll or baked bean tins
  • Cling film
  • Peel-off lids e.g. from fruit punnets
  • Thin moulded plastic packaging e.g. from toys, batteries or Easter eggs (separate from cardboard)

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

  • Squeezy toothpaste tubes
  • Plastic/foil pouches e.g. pet food or baby food (see our Recycling A to Z for where to recycle Ella’s Kitchen or similar baby food pouches)
  • Biodegradable or compostable plastic (wrap, bags, cutlery or cups) – put in black bin – not acceptable in green bin either
  • Drinking straws
  • Nappies
  • Crisp packets with metallic inside (these can now be recycle through Terracycle)
  • Hard plastic e.g. buckets, toys, storage boxes (check the Cambridge County Council's website to see which hard plastic items can be recycled at Household Recycling Centres)
  • Polystyrene takeaway containers
  • Protective polystyrene packaging
  • Black plastic trays (not detected by infra-red sensors used in sorting)
  • Disposable paper cups e.g. coffee cups (made of a mixture of plastic and paper)

Some manufacturers label plastic with numbers which indicate the polymer it’s made from, like 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 may 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.

Symbols like these (see below) 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 ‘not currently recycled’ label is used on packaging which more than 80% of councils do not collect, such as plastic film. South Cambridgeshire is in the 20% which can recycle it. Please use the information provided by the council to decide what you can recycle at home. Packaging labels are helpful if you are away and not familiar with local collections.

Recycling symbols


All household plastic bottles – just rinse, empty, squash 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, and this is done by blasting them with jets of air.

For example bottles from:

  • Water
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Squash
  • Sauces
  • Cooking oil
  • Washing up liquid
  • Bleach
  • Antibacterial spray
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Shower gel
  • Hand soap (remove pump and put in black bin)
  • Garden products
  • Car products

Remove film and bubble wrap and recycle too. Remove absorbent layer and put in black bin. Wash and shake of excess water.

For example from:

  • Yoghurt (all sizes)
  • Fruit
  • Fresh soup or sauce
  • Pot noodles
  • Margarine or butter
  • Dishwasher tablets

It’s always best to reduce and reuse before you recycle, so you could try reducing your plastic footprint by:

  • Refilling a bottle with tap water instead of buying bottled
  • Remembering to take bags to the shops
  • Choosing products with less packaging, or recyclable packaging e.g. pet food in tins or foil trays
  • Making a packed lunch instead of buying convenience food
  • Storing leftovers in Tupperware (or just a bowl with a plate on top) instead of using cling film
  • Asking for no straw in restaurants
  • Using a washable cloth and spray cleaner instead of disposable cleaning wipes
  • Using washable baby wipes or nappies

No these 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, for example on a packet of batteries.

All materials from the blue bin are sorted at a Materials Recycling Facility near Waterbeach. Plastics are sorted using Near Infra Red 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.

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. To find out whether a specific plastic item can be recycled, search our What Goes In Which Bin? guide.

If you want to help with our campaign, please share posts from South Cambridgeshire, or Greater Cambridge Recycles, on Twitter or Facebook, or download a poster to put up in your village.

Cambridgeshire Recycle


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