The Plastic Recycling Quick Guide

by | Jul 2, 2019

Plastics have come under scrutiny in recent years, with single-use plastics becoming something of a dirty word for their environmental impact. Indeed, the global attitude to plastic is shifting, with plastic bans and regulations becoming increasingly prevalent.


  • The UK currently recycles in the region of 350 000 tonnes of plastic each year – and the quantity is expected to increase in future too.
  • 74% of plastic bottles are recycled.
  • 46% of plastic packaging is recycled.
  • 31% of all plastic is recycled.


The media has been full of images and stories on the effects of plastics on the environment. Quite simply, our consumption of plastics has become environmentally unsustainable and this has forced a much-needed shift in behaviour.

Environmental resources

Many think of the environmental consequences of waste plastics, but its environmental impact starts long before disposal. Plastic is made by chemically bonding oil and gas to create monomers and the manufacturing process requires energy and resources (creating new polymers is a more energy-intensive process). When you think of the amount of plastic created daily around the world, this makes the recovery, recycling, and re-purposing of plastics critically important.

Environmental impact

Where plastic ends up in the waste cycle can have dire environmental effects. Plastic notoriously takes an inordinately long period of time to break down. When plastics go into landfill, combined with other waste forms, they can create a toxic leachate which is poisonous to eco-systems and wildlife – both on land and at sea. Indeed, marine wildlife have become the poster children for the anti-plastic cause and exposed our oceans as dumping grounds for generations of plastic waste.

Environmental attitude

The global drive of environmental awareness is becoming more and more necessary. Our attitude to plastic can drive healthy attitudes around the environment in general.


Human health and the environment should be looked at concurrently. By contaminating ground water, streams, and rivers – and with micro-plastics being found in the fish and animals we consume from the oceans – our health is, in turn, negatively affected by the scourge of plastic.

It boosts resource efficiency

Let’s not think of plastic as waste. Let’s think of it as a resource. Plastic is versatile and useful – hence its popularity. Recycling plastics stands to create a sustainable, cost-effective source of raw materials.


  • The United Kingdom aims to recycle 50% of its plastic by 2020 and three-quarters of plastic waste is to be recycled by 2035.
  • The Government also aims to further regulate the use of plastic in Britain in a number of ways including clear labelling to avoid consumer confusion, a tax on plastic packaging made from less 30% recycled material, and an outright ban on plastic packaging where an alternative material exists.


Every kind of plastic can be recycled – some to a greater extent and with greater ease than others. The most commonly recycled plastics are PET and HDPE plastics, which are those used in plastic bottles. Some of the least recycled plastic is polystyrene


Recovery is not to be confused with recycling. Recovery is the amount of plastic collected, which will then go on to recycling. The statistics on this will often differ, with recovery often being higher than recycling. This comes down to a number of factors, contamination of recovered goods being one.


Dry mixed recycling creates useful items out of clean, uncontaminated waste. These waste types include:

  • Paper
  • Cans
  • Cardboard
  • Certain types of plastic

This is a popularly-used form of recycling because it most closely resembles the household recycling model. However, there are a list of contaminants which fall outside of dry mixed recycling which can cause confusion or creep in because of ignorance.


As the name suggests, single-stream recycling is the recycling of a single form of material. This is an especially useful form of waste management if your business generates a lot of one form of waste. Waste types include:

  • Plastic
  • Aluminium foil and cans
  • Cardboard
  • Paper

With no complicated bin systems and removing the requirements of cleaning and sorting, single-stream recycling is great for businesses looking to save time and resources through environmentally-efficient waste management.


The most common form of plastic recycling is mechanical recycling (although advances in chemical recycling are being made all the time).

  • Plastic is recycled according to polymer. First, it is sorted according to category. This is done both automatically and manually.
  • The plastic is then shredded.
  • It is washed.
  • It is melted and formed into pellets, which form the basis of plastics.
  • It is reborn in the form of other plastic products.


  • Avoid contamination Which bin are you using for your plastic waste? If you are throwing your plastic waste into a general bin, it will head to landfill or face incineration rather than be recycled.
  • Clean it up before you toss it out Especially in the case of food packaging, clean your plastic before binning it for effective recycling.


In this day and age, one is left to wonder why anyone wouldn’t recycle. It has been found that the leading reason for a failure to recycle is confusion. Many members of the public find the parameters of recycling confusing and so do not participate. This makes education of staff a fundamental issue for business owners in the UK – one that can save money and benefit the environment through reduced landfill waste.

At Smarter Business, our team of waste specialists take the hassle out of business recycling and streamline waste management for optimal performance. We can advise you on the commercial recycling services best-suited to your business and offer cost-effective, environmentally-friendly solutions for optimal business performance. What will your business do with its savings?

Contact Smarter Business today to discuss how your business can strategise around rubbish and come up with a waste management plan for competitive advantage.

2024 Energy Market Volatility Strategy | Smarter Business

2024’s Forecasted Energy Price Increases and the Best Way To Save  Energy Market Volatility: Take The Power Back   Wholesale energy market volatility has seen an increase in prices, with projections showing fluctuations for the remainder of the year. With anticipated...

MOP DC/DA For Business Electricity | Smarter Business

Energy Spotlight: MOP DC/DA Contracts  What Are MOPs and DC/DA and Why Are They Important?  Effective metering and timely energy data hold extensive potential benefits for businesses. These include billing accuracy, effective energy efficiency strategies, and costs...

2024 Commercial Energy Price Forecast | Smarter Business UK

2024 Commercial Energy Price Predictions  For business owners, the question on everyone’s minds is, “Will energy prices fall in 2024?” At first glance, we appear to have started strong in 2024 – with a 12% reduction in the short-term energy price forecast according to...

2024 Business Energy, Gas, Water, Facilities Maintenance

Business Energy Tips for a Strong Start In 2024    Insights To Ensure Business Utilities Are New Year Ready  As we take our first steps into the new year, it is the perfect time to get everything in line to start 2024 on the right foot. Take the time to relook at...

2023 Winter Business Energy Savings

Quick Tips for Winter Energy Worries  How To Prevent Winter Energy Woes    As winter approaches, the cost of winter energy – at home and at work – is on everyone’s minds. It’s a good time to scrutinise energy consumption with savings in mind.  The domestic energy...