Do I need to wash plastics before recycling?

It’s easy to take for granted just how well-equipped the UK is for recycling. Local councils make it easy for us to place our recyclables in a separate bin to be collected on a regular basis.

However, incorrectly recycling something can cause big problems further down the line.


Depending on where you are in the UK will affect what you can and can’t recycle, but one thing that is consistent across most of the UK is that recyclables need to be washed out.

For example a plastic food container from last night’s microwaveable meal would need to be washed out to prevent contamination further down the recycling line.

If a piece of recycling is classed as contaminated then there’s a risk of the below happening:

  • Items are isolated from rest of recyclables which increases processing costs
  • Entire recycling load is burnt for energy or sent to landfill

So whilst it’s highly unlikely that a single piece of unwashed plastic would cause an entire load to be rejected, imagine if hundreds of people place just one piece of contaminated material into their recycling bin.

Washing without wasting water

There’s an argument that washing out items destined for the recycling bin would be a waste of water. However, it’s about the bigger picture – do you really want to see tonnes of good recyclables be turned away?

Rinsing out the recyclables in water that you’ve used to wash up your dishes won’t waste water.

Common contaminates

The items causing most of the issues in recycling centres are:

  • Unwashed food containers
  • Used nappies (seriously, don’t put those in recycling bins)
  • Clothes and shoes

So, in short – yes you do need to wash out your recyclables before putting them into recycling.

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