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, this page aims to cut the confusion...
What plastics can be recycled in the blue bin?
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:
- Fizzy drinks
- Cooking oil
- Washing up liquid
- Antibacterial spray
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Shower gel
- Hand soap (remove pump and put in black bin)
- Garden products
- Car cleaning products
Plastic pots, tubs and trays
Remove film and bubble wrap and recycle too. Remove absorbent layer and put in black bin. Wash and shake off excess water.
For example pots, tubs or trays from:
- Yoghurt (all sizes)
- Fresh soup or sauce
- Pot noodles
- Margarine or butter
- Dishwasher tablets
- Thin moulded plastic packaging - for example, from toys, batteries or Easter eggs (separate from cardboard)
Bags and film
Empty, clean and dry film or bags only. Please do not put items inside bags.
For example bags from:
- Bread or baked goods
- Magazine or junk mail wrapping (not if compostable)
- Cereal packet inners
- Carrier bags
- Multipack wrap, for example, from toilet roll or baked bean tins
- Cling film
- Peel-off lids, for example, from fruit punnets
Please note that due to market conditions the plastic films collected may 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.
Items we do not recycle
These items should be put in your black bin except where stated.
- Squeezy toothpaste tubes (these can be recycled through Terracycle)
- Plastic/foil pouches or wrappers. For example, pet food or baby food pouches and tea bag or chocolate wrappers (these can be recycled through the Co-op soft plastic recycling scheme)
- Biodegradable or compostable plastic (wrap, bags, cutlery or cups) – put in black bin – not accepted in green bin either
- Drinking straws
- Crisp packets with metallic inside (these can be recycled through Terracycle or the Co-op soft plastic recycling scheme)
- Hard plastic. For example, buckets, toys and storage boxes (check Cambridgeshire County Council's website to see which hard plastic items can be recycled at Household Recycling Centres)
- Polystyrene takeaway containers
- Protective polystyrene, foam or sponge packaging, for example from computers (Curry's PC World will take back their own TV packaging for recycling)
- Disposable paper cups, for example, coffee cups (made of a mixture of plastic and paper - some coffee shops such as Costa have recycling bins in-store)
You can find advice on whether or not you can recycle hundreds of specific items on our What Goes In Which Bin? page.
Plastic packaging can have many different labels on it, and not all of them mean it can be recycled. So what do they mean?
Not Yet Recycled / Check Locally
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.
Polymer or resin codes
Some manufacturers label plastic with numbers which indicate the polymer it’s made from, like Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) 1 (used in fizzy drink bottles) or high-density polyethylene (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.
You do not need to remove the labels, as they 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.
The journey of recycled plastic
All materials from the blue bin are sorted at a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) at the Amey Waste Management Park near Waterbeach. Plastics are sorted using Near Infra Red (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 specifies that UK markets should be given preference where possible. Over 99% of the recyclable plastic that Greater Cambridge Shared Waste service collected between March 2020 and December 2021 was sent to UK reprocessors for recycling. The remaining material which was exported was fully tracked in accordance with strict guidance from DEFRA, and this is recorded on the national Waste Data Flow website. Materials are only sent to sites which have a permit to recycle them legally.
Reducing single-use plastics
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. For example, pet food in tins or foil trays
- Shopping at a local refill shop
- 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
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.