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Your recycling questions answered

Unsure if or where you can recycle something? Read our guide to recycling everything from blister packs to clothes.

Written by Tearfund | 09 Oct 2023

Find out how and where to recycle those items you're never sure about – from soft plastics to old mobile phones. Image: Julia Cameron / Pexels.

Have you ever wondered where or if something can be recycled? Look no further: we’ve answered the tricky recycling questions we’re often asked by Tearfund supporters.

It’s our privilege and responsibility to look after God’s earth, and we know that plastic pollution impacts people living in poverty the most. So, one of the most important ways we can respond is by reducing how much single-use plastic we use, and then recycling everything we’re left with.

Recycling rules vary depending on where you are in the UK. But most of the answers to your commonly asked recycling questions apply regardless of your postcode. We hope you’ll find our guide helpful.

Soft plastics

Plastic pasta bags, crisp packets and the chocolate bar that somehow got into your shopping basket… Our grocery shops often seem full of ‘soft’ plastic – the lightweight plastic that pings back when you scrunch it. This can’t be recycled at home so it often goes into our general waste. The good news is that many supermarkets now provide collection points for recycling soft plastics (see the Recycle Now website to find your local facility).

However, there is a question over how well soft plastics are recycled. They are difficult, low-value items to recycle, meaning it’s often not cost-effective to do so: it’s easier to burn or discard them. Plastic tracked from Tesco’s soft plastic recycling scheme was found at the margins of waste management systems and in the hands of recycling companies that burnt or buried non-recyclable waste.

But as more of us use these collection points, it demonstrates a desire from consumers that less of what we buy ends up in landfill. That’s why many supermarkets are taking steps to reduce the plastic they use, and Morrisons is trialling zero-waste stores. Why not write to your local supermarket to encourage them to do more to reduce their plastic?

Because plastics decrease in quality each time they’re recycled (unlike glass, which can be recycled over and over again) it’s always best to reduce our soft plastic use where we can. Read our guide to plastic-free swaps for some top tips.


Medicine packets cannot be recycled at home, but did you know you can recycle them in all Superdrug pharmacies across the UK? Image: Roberto Sorin / Unsplash.

Medicine blister packs

Medicine blister packs cannot generally be recycled at home. Their contents can often be toxic due to drug contamination. But some organisations will recycle them for you for free.

You can recycle blister packs in all Superdrug pharmacies across the UK, although most will only accept a small number of packs per person. If you want to recycle larger quantities, such as packs you’ve collected as a group, lots of other organisations will accept them, as a quick Google search will show you. Sometimes you might even find a collection bin in a hospital.


Disposable vapes are incredibly harmful to the environment and difficult to recycle. If you use them, choose a reusable one. However, it is possible – although challenging – to recycle parts of a disposable vape. The outer shell can be recycled with plastics, and the battery can be recycled with other battery parts. The e-liquid tank needs to be rinsed with water before being recycled. These parts can be recycled at most recycling centres. Unfortunately, the rest of the vape is not recyclable. Due to the increasing harm vapes are having on the environment, Tearfund Ambassador Laura Young is campaigning to ban disposable vapes.


Many retail outlets, town halls, libraries, schools and work places have battery recycling collection points. Image: John Cameron / Unsplash.


Bring your old batteries with you the next time you shop: many retail outlets will now recycle them for free. They usually provide collection containers, particularly if they sell batteries. Some libraries, town halls, workplaces and schools also have collection points, and most household waste recycling centres will recycle them too.

Mobile phones

Did you know that 80 per cent of the parts in your phone can be recycled? These parts are incredibly valuable, as they come from limited resources. We can help by fixing broken phones rather than buying new, or buying secondhand. (If you do decide to buy new, check out Fairphone.)

Secondhand phones can be bought and sold on sites such as Music Magpie and 4Gadgets or in person at your local CeX store or similar shops. If the phone is broken and can no longer be used, charities such as Oxfam take them for their valuable parts; otherwise most recycling centres take electronics.

80 per cent of the parts of your old mobile phones can be recycled and these parts are incredible valuable as they come from limited resources. Image: Eirik Solheim / Unsplash.

Contact lenses, face masks… High street recycling locations

Who knew contact lenses were recyclable? Cosmetic packaging, helium balloons, plant pots, face masks, small electricals and pens are among an eclectic mix of items that can be collected for recycling at a number of high street stores including Abel & Cole, Argos, Asda, Body Shop, Boots, Card Factory, Co-op, Currys, Dobbies, Lush, Sainsbury’s, Specsavers, Superdrug, Tesco, Waitrose and WHSmith. However, it’s not guaranteed that all of these items will be recycled fully.


Disposable nappies cannot be recycled at home through your regular bin collections – not even biodegradable ones. Yet, research suggests that one in ten parents with children under three have put a disposable nappy in the recycling bin.

Biodegradable means that a material will break down into organic matter: it doesn’t mean recyclable, and if it’s made of plastic it just means it’ll break down into thousands of bits of plastic that still pollute the environment. Putting any type of disposable nappy into your recycling bin can contaminate streets’ worth of recycling so the whole lot has to go to landfill.

The recycling industry is working on ways to make nappy recycling possible: check out NappiCycle. However, cloth nappies are best for the environment and often are more cost effective in the long run, especially if bought secondhand. Many areas of the UK are also supported by cloth nappy libraries where you can borrow kits for free to give them a try.

Some high street retailers have started to offer clothing donation banks in store through ‘bring back schemes’ to recycle old clothes into new clothes. Image: Lucas Hoang / Unsplash.

Textiles and clothing

Textiles and clothing are not usually recycled through home collections, although a small number of councils do offer this, so it is worth checking. Charity shops allow clothes that are still good quality to be passed on to other people and reused. Online secondhand clothing sites such as Depop and Vinted offer you the chance to make some money from your old clothes. For those worn-out garments, some high street retailers have started to offer clothing donation banks in store through ‘bring back schemes’ to recycle old into new clothes. However, these don’t guarantee it will actually be recycled and there have been recent claims these are mostly ‘greenwashing’ schemes for fast fashion.

Takeaway packaging and paper cups

Home-delivery services for takeaways are booming… but what to do with all the single-use waste that comes with your order? While there are bans on items such as plastic cutlery and polystyrene containers in England, there are still plenty of bits that come with our food orders that need to be sorted. Check which can be recycled in your household recycling collection and make sure all items are emptied, washed and dried.

Packaging such as pizza boxes can be recycled if there is no ‘3D’ waste attached, such as cheese: parts with food on can be cut off and binned and the rest can be recycled. Some local authorities do not accept pizza boxes with greasy marks, so it's worth checking that too.

Plastic tubs can be reused as containers in the home. Paper cups are often lined with plastic or are labelled as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’, none of which can be recycled in paper recycling. Often the compostable ones cannot be added to your home compost either, as they require an industrial process to break down. The National Cup Recycling Scheme means that many major retailers, such as Costa Coffee and McDonald’s, have set up recycling points for these cups. You can find your nearest station on the scheme’s website – but, again, how many of these actually get recycled into new products is unclear.

Glass jars with or without lids?

Check your local authority’s recycling website to find out how to recycle your glass jars. Some authorities prefer the lids to stay on: others prefer that lids and jars are recycled separately. If in doubt, keep lids on.


Crisp packets take ten to 20 years to decompose. They can't be recycled at home, but collection points are available at some major supermarkets. Image: Bermix Studio / Unsplash.

Crisp packets

In the UK we consume 6 billion packets of crisps annually! Most of these are disposed of in our general waste, and they can take ten to 20 years to decompose. Unfortunately, crisp packets cannot be recycled at home but you can use the Recycle Now search engine to find your nearest retailer offering a collection point. These include Co-op, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons.

Recycling at supermarkets

Many supermarkets have also started to offer recycling facilities for a wide range of materials including paper, card, mixed glass, textiles, batteries, Tetra Pak cartons, electricals, books and more. This will vary from store to store, so on your next shopping trip see what your local store offers or check on their website – they may surprise you!

Refill stores

Recycling is hugely important, but the current system is not yet efficient. That's why the best way to reduce waste is to cut out single-use items altogether. Refill stores are gaining in popularity and refill options are making their way into major retail chains. Bring your own containers and fill them with all kinds of loose items. Find a store near you on directories such as this one. Many refill shops also have bins for hard-to-recycle items.

What else can I do?

Now that you’ve been inspired to recycle those trickier items, why not take on our Rubbish Challenge and see if you can reduce your rubbish? We have lots of advice on how to decrease your waste in this article too.

The rubbish problem is a global one, not just something to tackle here in the UK. Call on world leaders to end plastic pollution by signing this petition, and check out our Rubbish Campaign page for more ways you and your church can get involved.

Please note this article was correct at the time of publication but details about how and where items can be recycled may change. Please check with your local authorities for the most up-to-date information about what can be recycled in your area.

By Hannah Causebrook, Christine Meyer, Siân Connolly and Phoebe Smith.


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Written by  Tearfund

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