6 Frequently Asked Questions about Recycling

As part of our green commitment, every week we publish a series of sustainability tips on our staff newsletter. These are some of the most common questions that our staff and PhD students have asked our Faculty Green Officer, Dr Charlotte Rae:

1. What do the numbers and symbols mean on plastic items?

If you look closely at your plastic item, you will spot a number (1-7) and letters (such as PET or PP). The number is a resin identification code and indicates the type of plastic the item is made from. You will most commonly find types 1 and 2 on plastic bottles (clear and opaque respectively), type 4 on plastic bags and wrappers, type 5 on hot food containers, and 7 for ‘everything else’. These numbers are used by recycling processing plants to sort the waste into categories by plastic-type.

Historically, in the UK, local authorities often asked you as the consumer to inspect all your plastic items for these codes, and only put items with the numbers they collected in your recycling bin. However, they have since recognised that expecting residents to inspect every time and remember which numbers are ok and which are not accepted is a barrier to engaging in recycling. So, most local authorities now ask you to consider the type of item – such as plastic bottle, bag, or pot/tub/tray – instead of the number.

Here’s a summary of what plastic items you can put in recycling bins on campus, and in your residential collection in various local authorities:

AuthorityBottlesBagsPots/tubs/trays
On campusYESnono
Brighton & HoveYESnono
Lewes DistrictYESYESYES
Mid Sussex District CouncilYESnoYES
Wealden District CouncilYESYESYES

2. Should I take lids off plastic bottles before recycling or leave them on?

This unfortunately is something that also differs amongst local authorities, but most now accept bottles with lids on. The lid is then taken care of at the recycling processing plant. Here is a summary:

AuthorityLids on?
On campusYES
Brighton & HoveYES
Lewes DistrictYES
Mid Sussex District Councilno
Wealden District CouncilYES

Wash and squash bottles if possible before recycling (helps take up less space in lorry and thus more recycling can be collected with fewer lorry miles).

3. Why won’t my local authority accept an item when others do?

In a word, finances: difficult to recycle items with low re-manufacture value (such as plastic pots, tubs & trays) often cost the authority to dispose of, so they are faced with the difficult decision of having to balance the sustainability benefits against increases to council tax.

The best solution (until national legislation places the burden of disposal cost on manufacturers) is to reduce, and reuse, before you recycle – i.e. try to avoid buying plastic items where possible.

4. Are glass jar and bottle lids metal or plastic? Can I recycle them?

Most glass jars and bottles are sealed with a metal lid that has a plastic lining. These are recycled as metals rather than plastics, because the plastic component is burned off during the recycling process to leave the metal, which can then be remanufactured.

Most local authorities accept both glass jar and bottle lids in their recycling collections. Brighton & Hove will accept glass jar lids, but not bottle lids (this is probably due to the small size of bottle lids, which can cause problems during waste sorting by falling through gaps in machinery, rather than the plastic presence). I could not find any info about whether we can recycle metal lids on campus, but if you are recycling glass jars and bottles on campus, please put them in separate dedicated glass recycling bins rather than the mixed recycling bins.

AuthorityJar lids?Bottle lids?
On campusProbablyProbably
Brighton & HoveYESno
Lewes DistrictYESYES
Mid Sussex District CouncilYESYES
Wealden District CouncilYESYES

5. Can I recycle Tetrapaks & cartons?

These food and drink containers are items that contain a mixture of cardboard, foil, and plastic. As a result they are hard to recycle, because only the cardboard can be recycled and the other components have to be incinerated.

Although these items can technically be recycled (or at least, the cardboard component can), many authorities will not accept them for recycling because it is such an involved (and therefore expensive) process. Try to avoid purchasing items packaged in tetrapaks and cartons if the item is available in another form of packaging (e.g. passata comes in glass jars as well as cartons).

While Brighton & Hove will not accept tetrapaks in their doorstep recycling collections, you can take them to drop-off recycling points around the city.

AuthorityTetrapaks & cartons?
On campusYES – York House car park
Brighton & HoveTake to recycling point
Lewes Districtno
Mid Sussex District CouncilYES
Wealden District Councilno

6. Where can I recycle batteries?

All household batteries, like AA, AAA, and C ‘button-shaped’ batteries (used in watches and kitchen scales), can be recycled. (So can car batteries and mobile phone batteries, but that’s for another day!)

Some local authorities will accept household batteries in your doorstep collection (see below). Otherwise, you can take your batteries to drop-off points, including council recycling centres, and some supermarkets (search for your nearest here, selecting ‘Where to recycle a specific item’ -> Batteries -> location: https://www.recyclenow.com/local-recycling).

On campus, there are battery recycling boxes where you can deposit batteries (please do not put in the mixed recycling bins). We have one in Pevensey 1 opposite the staff kitchen, which you can use for household batteries from home as well as any you use at work.

However, if possible, it’s best to use rechargeable batteries rather than single-use ones. These are mostly AA and AAA rather than the circular types used in for example kitchen scales, so it may not be possible for all household items. If you can switch to rechargeable batteries, a charger will cost around £10-15, which is soon recouped. And if you have a renewable energy supplier at home, your batteries will be charged with green electricity too. Be aware that you CANNOT put non-rechargeable batteries in a charger – they are made of different materials and this would be both dangerous and risk damaging your charger!

If you do purchase single-use batteries, look for those containing recycled content for ‘closed loop’ recycling. However, some I purchased recently, upon reading the small print, contained only 4% recycled material! So it really is better to reduce, REUSE, recycle by switching to rechargeable batteries where possible.

AuthorityWhere to recycle batteries?
On campusDrop off in battery recycling box
Brighton & HoveTake to household waste recycling site
Lewes DistrictTake to household waste recycling site
Mid Sussex District CouncilTake to household waste recycling site
Wealden District CouncilDoorstep collection: place in a separate plastic bag on top of recycling bin (plastic bag will also be recycled)

Do you have a recycling question? Contact Charlotte Rae.

In addition to being Psychology’s Faculty Green Officer, Dr Charlotte Rae is the director of the Adaptive Behavioural Control Lab which researches the processes by which how we feel (interoception) influences how we behave (action). She feels passionately about the environmental impacts of academic activities, which is why she became the Founding Chair of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping’s Sustainability and Environment Action Special Interest Group.

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