Why can't I recycle all plastics?

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1. Mountains of plastic

Every year we buy around 3.7 million tonnes of plastic products in the UK. Much of this plastic is packaging, with only 842,000 tonnes being recycled.

Much of the plastic we use ends up in landfill. This is either because it is currently not possible to recycle, individuals don't take it to be recycled or local authorities don't accept it.

Find out which types of plastic are currently not possible to recycle - and why - and which could be recycled if we wanted to.

2. Which is not possible to recycle?

Which one of these plastic items is currently not possible to recycle because of its chemical structure?

Expanded polystyrene

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Expanded polystyrene

Wrong

Polystyrene, used in packaging and cups, is chemically and mechanically possible to recycle. But many local authorities don't take it for logistical reasons.

Water bottles

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Water bottles

Wrong

Water bottles are made of a thermoplastic called PET. It can be recycled and is commonly accepted by local authority schemes.

Cling film

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Cling film

Wrong

Cling film is mostly made of polyethylene. It is possible to recycle, but not many local authorities take it due to the likelihood of food contamination.

Plug socket

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Plug socket

Correct

Plug sockets are often made from urea formaldehyde resin. This is a thermosetting plastic – its chemical structure makes it virtually impossible to recycle.

3. Non-recyclable

graphic showing what happens when you try to melt thermosetting and thermoplastics

Thermosetting plastics cannot be recycled by the normal method of heating because the molecular bonds that bind them together burn instead of melting. There are cutting-edge chemical processes that can be used, but they are a long way off being economically viable.

4. Logistically difficult

Although all thermoplastics are chemically possible to recycle, some are logistically difficult. Click on the image and labels below to see why some plastics might not be accepted by your local authority.

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