Waste management industry unites to develop ‘first ever’ National Recycling Guidelines

Britain's rising recycling contamination levels could be pulled back on track thanks to a new set of guidelines developed by the waste management industry which detail exactly what can and cannot be accepted for recycling at the kerbside.

The National Recycling Guidelines, developed by WRAP along with the a number of other organisations and trade bodies, have been designed to better inform householders across England, Scotland and Wales as to what can be included in recycling bins and how these materials should be presented.


The Guidelines cover paper, card, cartons, metal, plastic, food waste and glass. They go into detail about whether or not certain materials need to be rinsed off; if lids should be left on or taken off; and why certain items still cannot be accepted for recycling in particular areas.

Collaborative effort

WRAP’s head of resource management Linda Crichton said: “For as long as I have been at WRAP, there has been a desire to have clarity across the country on what can be recycled and how items should be presented for recycling. We now have that – labels and tops can be left on bottles, envelopes can be recycled, trigger sprays don’t need to be removed.

“We wish to thank all those involved for coming together to enable this ground-breaking work to happen. It has been a truly collaborative effort without which, the guidelines would not have been produced. We all have an interest in increasing recycling and making it less confusing for people.

“As such we encourage all organisations to consider the guidelines and adopt the information and messages that are relevant to them. WRAP will keep the guidelines under review and incorporate additional materials and advice as practices and technology develops.”

Key information and messages included in the Guidelines can be incorporated in targeted and strategic communications to help increase recycling, reduce contamination, and ultimately realise savings across the whole supply chain. The Guidelines will be embedded in resources aupplied by campaign group Recycle Now, with related communications materials being made available to local authorities and other partners to download and localise.

Contamination levels

This is the first action that has been delivered in support of greater consistency in household recycling, following the publication of the industry’s Framework for England in September. A month prior to that, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request carried out by BBC Breakfast had revealed that the quantity of rejected recyclable waste in England had increased by 84% over the past four years.

The reason for this increase in rejected recyclable waste is contamination, caused by the wrong materials being placed in the wrong bins, or containers still holding the remnants of unconsumed food or liquids –as recently brought to light with coffee cups in the Hugh’s War on Waste TV programme.

WRAP designed the new Guidelines in light of its latest Recycling Tracker Survey, which revealed that two-thirds of UK households are uncertain how to dispose of at least one common waste item – including foil, plastic toiletry bottles and aerosols – and almost (49%) admitted to disposing of recyclable food items into the residual waste bin, predominantly due to the belief these items would attract foxes, vermin and flies.

But initial testing of the new Guidelines has already demonstrated the potential positive effective: 94% of initial respondents have learned something new, with more people learning about items that cannot be recycled than items that can be.

Household confusion

Commenting on the launch of the Guidelines, Simon Ellin, chief executive of The Recycling Association – one of the organisations involved in the development of the Recycling Guidelines – said: “We are delighted that the consistency approach has been well received. 

“Householders and local authorities are the first part of the recycling supply chain. What they do and achieve is instrumental on household recycling quality. These Guidelines make everything that much easier. They provide clarity, and, if widely adopted, will put an end to householder confusion.”

Other organisations involved in the development of the Guidelines include the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the British Plastics Federation (BPF) and carton recycling body ACE UK.

The Guidelines have been released less than a week after the announcement that Wales has doubled its recycling rates over the past decade and is exceeding the current statutory recycling target of 58%.  Based on last year’s UK-wide recycling waste from households, there is a 10-14% difference between Wales’ recycling rates and the rest of the home nations.

Read WRAP’s new National Recycling Guidelines here.

Luke Nicholls & Alex Baldwin

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