Plastic Recycling Tips

Recycling plastic is not the long-term solution for dealing with plastic waste.

All virgin plastic can be recycled but plastic cannot be infinitely recycled and at some point will be waste that has to go somewhere or be burnt. However, while on the journey to reduce our plastic footprint, it is worth learning what’s best to do with each type of plastic once used.

This article focuses on food packaging as this normally is the biggest generator of plastic waste.

Know your plastics

There are many different types of plastic and it can help both your purchase decisions and waste management if you understand a bit about them.

Plastic products and containers are often marked with one of the following 'Resin Identification Code' symbols: 


 Resin Identification Code (RIC) Type 1

PET // polyethylene terephthalate

What? Often used to make drink bottles and clear plastic food trays, like fruit punnets

Easy to recycle? Bottles are collected for recycling in almost all areas of the UK; food trays are collected in some. 

What do they make? These are easy to recycle in to new PET bottles or polyester fibre for clothing and wadding.

Resin Identification Code (RIC) Type 2

HDPE // high-density polyethylene

What? Milk bottles, cleaning product and toiletry bottles. Same carrier bags and food wrapping film.

Easy to recycle? Bottles are collected recycling in almost all areas of the UK. 

What do they make? ??

Resin Identification Code (RIC) Type 3

PVC // polyvinyl chloride

What? Building materials such as window frames, stationery, fabrics, footwear and some cling film.

Easy to recycle? Almost never recycled

Resin Identification Code (RIC) Type 4

LDPE // low density polyethylene

What? Carrier bags, cling film, food wrappers

Easy to recycle? Carrier bags are often collected for recycling at larger supermarkets along with some food wrappers such as:

  • bread bags
  • some vegetable bags, like potatoes 
  • frozen food bags, like vegetables and fish
  • multi-pack wraps on tinned food, like baked beans and tinned tomatoes
  • toilet roll plastic wrappers

But check the packaging label before recycling. 
More details here:

What do they make? ??

Resin Identification Code (RIC) Type 5

PP // polypropylene

What? Plastic food containers, such as meat trays and margarine tubs. Some carrier bags.  

Easy to recycle? Collection for recycling in some areas and at some supermarkets. Remove any plastic film cover before recycling.

What do they make? Easy to recycle into new products

Resin Identification Code (RIC) Type 6

PS // polystyrene

What? Takeaway food containers, electronics packaging 

Easy to recycle? Almost never recycled 


Resin Identification Code (RIC) Type 7


What? Mixed material packaging such as crisp packets
Synthetic fibres, like polyester

Easy to recycle? Almost never recycled, although worth checking on the Terracycle website

When buying food packaged in plastic

Sometimes plastic-wrapped food is unavoidable, but not all plastic packaging is as recyclable so it is worth checking any labelling before you buy. 

Most supermarket own-brand products, and some branded products, will have one or more of the following symbols on the packaging. This gives you basic advice on how recyclable the packaging is - including the very optimistic label of 'Not Yet Recycled'.


Do not buy food in black plastic trays as these are not recycled as they are not easily separated from other plastics. They are commonly used for meat and ready-meal containers and can often be found in biscuit packets. 

A lot of collected plastic isn't actually recycled. This can be due to contamination so make sure that all plastic is clean and dry to give it the best chance of being recycled. 

New recycling schemes

Bottle tops - LUSH

Contact lenses - Boots 

Find out more at Disposal Know How

or at

More guidance on recycling

Not all councils across the UK accept the same types of plastic so it is best to check the kerbside collection policy for your local council website or visit



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