10 Most Common Recycling Contaminants And How To Avoid Them


Contaminated recycling is serious business, with even the smallest piece in the wrong place relegating an entire batch of recycling to the landfill. Not only that, but it’s also estimated that contaminated plastics cost local councils as much as £49 million each year. This is also a huge problem for businesses operating their own used recycling machinery.

If in doubt, it’s always better to throw items away with the general waste to avoid contaminating other items. To help get to the bottom of what’s what, we’ve put together this handy guide on the 10 most common recycling contaminants, and how you can avoid them.

1. Food and Drink Residue

Food and drink residue is probably the most common contaminant of household waste. Any recycling with 8% or higher food or drink residue should be cleaned first, or if that isn’t possible, then it can’t be recycled. Some common examples include greasy pizza boxes (oils seep into the cardboard that can’t be separated), drinks bottles, and food containers.

2. Plastic Bags

While most plastic bags are made of recyclable plastics, they’ve been known to clog up recycling equipment and cause problems. Not only does this cause delays at the recycling facility, but it can also cause potential harm to the workers. Many supermarkets will have specific recycling points for plastic bags, providing a safe and simple solution.

3. Electronics

There are all sorts of hazardous materials found within electronics, which are harmful to both the environment and our health. If your electronics are in a workable condition, it’s always best to try to sell them or donate them to someone else who could make use of them. If your electronics aren’t in a usable condition, then most towns have places where electronics can be safely discarded.

4. Used Recyclables

Items like paper plates, napkins, or cups are probably the first recyclables that come to mind. If they’ve been used however, they are unfortunately no good (see #1 on our list). The good news though is that many of these items are compostable.

5. Non-Recyclable Plastics

Not all plastics are recyclable. Have a look on your items for a triangle with a number inside, if that number is anything other than 1 or 2, it’s probably not recyclable.

6. Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste is a pretty obvious one, but it’s still one of the most common contaminants. Things like paints, pesticides, or automotive fluids easily make their way into the recycling, but they need special treatment to be disposed of properly.

7. Plastic Straws

When it comes to recycling, plastic straws are the man of the hour. Thanks to being so small and flexible, they can easily get caught in recycling machinery and cause problems. Stick to reusable straws.

8. Broken Glass

Broken glass can be incredibly dangerous for those doing the recycling. Avoid recycling broken glass, and instead throw it in the general waste wrapped in something sturdy.

9. Cabling

Whether it’s lighting cables, extension leads, or a garden hose, cords and cables can wrap themselves around recycling equipment and cause major damage. Establishments that recycle electronics will often recycle cabling, or alternatively, throw them out with the general waste.

10. Foam Packaging

Foam packaging comes in all sorts of crazy shapes and sizes, from small packing peanuts to huge polystyrene pieces. This is an interesting one though, as while it’s all recyclable, it’s just not cost effective.