What can't be recycled and why

Information about what items you cannot put in your clear Smart Sacks or in the Smart Banks. 

What is contamination?

Any materials put in the Smart Sacks or Smart Banks which can't be recycled are called contaminants.

Some contaminants can cause serious damage to the recyclable materials and equipment at the materials recovery facility (MRF), where materials are sorted. For example, food waste damages paper so it can't be recycled, and textiles can wind around equipment at the MRF and damage it.

To find out more about the materials recovery facility, visit the Western Riverside website.

If a collection crew notices a Smart Sack or Smart Bank contains a contaminant, it will be collected as refuse and sent for disposal rather than being recycled. If contamination isn't noticed until large amounts are seen when the vehicle is emptied, the entire truck load may have to be sent for disposal.

Contamination is usually spotted at the point of collection and it has only ever been on very rare occasions that an entire truck has been sent for disposal.

Food waste

Including any materials that are contaminated by food waste, eg cardboard pizza boxes and sandwich containers. This makes recycling unpleasant for you to store. It also damages paper and cardboard so it can't be recycled. Some food waste, eg fruit and vegetable peelings is suitable for home composting.

See the Western Riverside Website for information about the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

Garden waste

If garden and plant trimmings are put in the Smart Sacks or Smart Banks they can damage equipment at the materials recovery facility. Garden waste is suitable for home composting.

Garden waste and home composting

Polystyrene, plastic bags and film

Plastic pots, tubs and trays can now be recycled in the Smart Sack and Smart Bank along with plastic bottles. Sorry, we can’t recycle any other types of plastic, including polystyrene, plastic bags and film.

These are typically made from different types of plastics to plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays. Currently it's difficult to recycle them as there are very few factories that can recycle theses types of plastics and they can't be sorted by the materials recovery facility.

There are recycling bins for plastic bags and film at large supermarkets.

Aluminium foil, milk bottle tops or yoghurt pot lids

Foil has slightly different properties to cans and because of this is usually recycled into lower quality products, eg while cans may be recycled into new cans this isn’t possible with foil. If put into the Smart Sacks or Smart Banks, foil can cause problems when the cans are processed and affect the quality of the end product. It is also difficult to sort at the materials recovery facility.

Aerosol cans

To improve safety at our waste sorting facility, aerosol cans cannot be recycled in Smart Sacks or Smart Banks, and must be put in your general waste. When the waste is compressed into bales, sometimes the canisters can explode if they are still pressurised. These explosions not only have the potential to harm staff at the Material Recycling Facility (MRF) at Smugglers Way, but also risk causing a fire. The risk is not confined to H&F’s facility but is a problem faced by similar plants across the UK.

Clothes, textiles and shoes

These can wind around equipment at the materials recovery facility and damage it. Also because textiles and shoes are likely to be damaged during the collection and sorting process it is not possible to use them again. There are charity textile and shoe banks located at some of our recycling collection sites.

Clothes, shoes and textile recycling

Broken glass

Broken glass should not be placed in your Smart Sack or Smart Bank as it can injure the collection crew or workers at the material recovery facility (MRF). Instead, please wrap it up carefully and place in a black refuse sack. If possible, also attach a note warning of the dangerous materials inside.

You also can't recycle Pyrex, mirrors, picture or window glass. 

Paper-based ice cream tubs, disposable coffee cups and containers such as Pringle pots

These containers may be made from, or include, materials that are not recyclable.

Shredded paper

Some paper mills cannot take this material because shredding reduced the papers fibre length, making the paper made from it weaker. Shredded paper is suitable for home composting. This material is also hard to sort at the material recovery facility.

Paper towels and tissues

These are seen as personal hygiene or clean-up products. Due to potential contamination, these products are not acceptable as recyclables. The fibres in these types of products are also shorter than the fibres in normal paper, which make them unsuitable for recycling. Depending on what this material has been used for it maybe suitable for home composting.

Should plastic windows be removed from envelopes?

There is no need to remove the windows from envelopes before putting them in the Smart Sack or the Smart Bank. Plastic windows are not normally a problem for paper mills as the window can usually be easily screened out during the manufacturing process.

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9am to 5pm Monday to Friday
020 8753 1100

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