Plastic recycling

Find out how different types of plastic are recycled in North Yorkshire.

Plastic has become part of everyday life, from bottles and bags to plastic pots and trays - our lives are full of it. We now use about 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago. Plastic is a useful material but we use a lot of it. By reusing and recycling it as many times as possible, we can reduce our need to create new plastic.

The recycling gap

In the UK, we recycle less than two thirds of our plastic bottles and less than a third of the plastic pots, tubs and trays. In North Yorkshire and York, even though all councils collect plastic bottles for recycling and many accepted other plastics too, there is still a lot of recyclable plastics left in the waste bin.

Where plastic ends up

Some of that plastic ends up polluting our environment. We all do our bit to recycle, but we can still do more. Most plastic waste in the UK doesn't end up in our oceans, but a lot is disposed of in our environment to be burned or buried in landfill sites. People are worried about its impact on nature, and they're right to be. 79% of the plastic waste ever created is still in our environment, leaving a legacy of plastic waste on our planet that will take years to put right.

Why we should recycle our plastic

There are a number of reasons why we should recycle our plastic:

  • plastic is believed to take around 500 years to decompose
  • additives in the plastic such as colorants, stabilisers and plasticisers which may contain toxic components such as cadmium and lead
  • conservation of non-renewable fuels and energy
  • the energy savings are sufficient to power a 60W light bulb for six hours, for each bottle recycled
  • reduced emissions of CO2 and nitrogen oxide

Plastic legislation

A range of polluting single-use plastics have been banned in England.

The government has introduced legislation to ban the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drinks containers, including cups, in England from October 2023:

  • there is a ban on the supply of single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, and single-use expanded and extruded polystyrene containers (see definition above), including cups
  • the ban on ‘cutlery’ includes single-use plastic knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks made of plastic, including standard size or mini-size cutlery or a combination of cutlery, such as sporks
  • there is a ban on the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, and bowls - using single-use plastic plates to bowls and trays rather than reusable alternatives
  • the ban on the supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, and bowls does not apply to plates, trays, and bowls that are used as packaging, in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items as defined in the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 regulation 3(b) (such as bowls and platters in a frozen meal) - this is to avoid duplication or confusion with proposals for an extended producer responsibility scheme (EPR) for packaging
  • for clarity, plastic plates, bowls, and trays that are used as packaging can be used in eat-in and takeaway settings, however, businesses should explore how they can reduce the use of these single-use items and move to reusable alternatives instead
  • the ban on the supply of plastic bowls and trays that are not packaging will be a ban on supply to the end user - this will allow businesses to purchase empty plates, bowls, and trays to use only as packaging for food; however, individuals will not be able to purchase these items
  • compostable plastics must be sent to an industrial composter for them to compost, so if littered in the open environment they will act much like any other plastic, in addition, because they are visibly indistinguishable from non-compostable plastics, even when they are sent to industrial composters there is no guarantee that they will not be stripped out at the start of the process and sent to landfill or incineration plants
  • as noted in the responses to a previous government call for evidence on this topic, there is currently insufficient industrial composting capacity in England to fully manage compostable plastic, so it would not be viable to exempt this material, risking improper treatment

The government brought these bans into force on 1 October 2023.

According to estimates, England uses 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery, most of which are plastic and 721 million single-use plates per year, but only 10% are recycled. If 2.7 billion pieces of cutlery were lined up they would go round the world over eight and a half times (based on a 15cm piece of cutlery).

From October, people cannot buy these products from any business, this includes retailers, takeaways, food vendors and the hospitality industry.

Plastic cutlery, was in the top 15 most littered items in the country by count in 2020.

Previous bans, such as banning straws, stirrers and cotton buds, have reduced the damage from these plastics.

These plans build on previous efforts to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, including:

  • bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products announced in 2018
  • restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds in 2020
  • plastic packaging tax in April 2022 – a tax of £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK, that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic
  • the minimum charge for a single use carrier bag was increased from 5p to 10p to all retailers in May 2021

Cutting through the confusion on plastic packaging

Clear on Plastics is a campaign by WRAP, the sustainability not-for-profit, and supported by The UK Plastics Pact. Clear on Plastics exists to cut through the confusion and give clear, evidence-based information on plastics and sustainability, allowing them to make their own informed choices.

Their aim is to give people clear information about the complex world of plastics, waste and recycling – for instance, explaining the role of plastics, and demonstrating the balance between the benefits and drawbacks of alternatives.

Recycling plastics at our household waste recycling centres

You can recycle all plastic bottles free of charge at all household waste recycling centres in North Yorkshire. Both household and commercial plastics are accepted at our sites.

Black plastic is not currently recycled, as optical scanners which use the reflection of light to identify and sort the types of plastics cannot detect it. Studies are looking into whether adding a pigment or marking to the trays would make the material detectable and recoverable and there is the possibility that in future manufacturers may change from this colour material.

Generally, plastic film, sacks, polystyrene, wrappers, cups, toys, bubble wrap, CD cases and food pouches cannot be recycled within your household recycling and need to be disposed of in your rubbish bin.

Remember, if it's plastic and bottle shaped it's recyclable, including all those from the bathroom like shampoo and bleach bottles.

Recycling plastic film and carrier bags (soft plastics) at supermarkets

There are some types of plastic films that can be recycled at collection points at the stores of most major supermarkets. These include Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, The Co-Op, Aldi and Waitrose.

The following different types of plastic films are accepted at soft plastic collection points.

Soft plastics are lightweight plastics that cannot be placed in recycling bins at home. Items such as plastic film lids on yoghurt pots, soft fruit punnets and ready meals, as well as plastic crisp packets, pasta bags and chocolate or biscuit wrappers.

  • Clean it – First, rinse your packaging out.
  • Scrunch it – Now, scrunch it up tight - if it pings back, it’s a useful indicator it's soft plastic.
  • Recycle it - Pop it into one of the soft plastics recycling units in a supermarket near you.

See what you can and can't recycle

Yes please

  • thin plastic lids of all types
  • all plastic bags - carrier, salad, fruit and vegetable bags, frozen food, bread, cereal, flower bags
  • confectionery wrappers - chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes and iced lolly wrappers
  • foil lined - crisp and snack packets
  • coffee bags, cheese, fish and meat wrapping
  • outer layer bags and wrap - multipacks, from toilet and kitchen rolls, magazine wrap
  • pouches, sachets and packets - baby, pet, food, microwaveable and cleaning pouches
  • film and sleeves - film lids, sleeves from jars and bottles
  • bubble wrap and cling film
  • giftwrap, greetings cards, etc
  • wrappers from household textiles, scourers, rubber gloves

No thanks

  • balloons
  • blister packs
  • compostable or biodegradeable bags and wrap
  • disposable gloves or masks
  • foam or polystyrene
  • plastic straws or cutlery
  • plastic bottles
  • plastic trays

How is the film collected?

The supermarkets collect the plastic film at the front of the store and then they use “reverse haulage” so that when new stock is delivered the empty lorry takes away all their plastic wrapping. The plastic is recycled at a variety of UK reprocessors who use it to make recycled plastic carrier bags and rubbish bags.

Why reduce and recycle plastic film?

It is estimated that 1.2 million tonnes of plastic film ends up in the UK waste stream every year with a staggering 800,000 tonnes from households. 

Please do not include bags or films in your kerbside recycling collections as they get caught up in the machinery at the sorting plant which causes many break downs and operational issues to the reprocessors.

Recycling other types of plastics

We collect plastic bottles and some tubs and trays from the kerbside and at household waste recycling centres. This is because there are established markets for these materials so they are easily recycled.

We realise that some residents would like to recycle more than just this, so if you want to see what extra food waste packaging you can recycle the following options may be useful.

Difficult to recycle packaging

Biscuit and cracker wrappers as well as pouches that used to contain coffee, pet food and baby food items are not accepted in your recycling collections from home. However, some difficult to recycle items are collected by a company called TerraCycle who recycle them to create new products.

The TerraCycle website explains more about their scheme, the other items they collect and how you can get involved.

They offer free recycling programmes funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers around the world to help you collect and recycle your hard to recycle waste. All you need to do is:

  • choose the programmes you’d like to join
  • start collecting in your home, school, or office
  • download free postage labels
  • send your waste to be recycled

You can earn rewards for your school or favourite not for profit organisation.

Blister packs

We are not able to collect empty medicine blister packs in your kerbside recycling collection. Instead blister packs can be recycled at:

  • Superdrug stores containing a pharmacy and Lloyds pharmacies via their in-store blister pack take-back scheme
  • Aldi's blister pack envelope recycling service - customers download a free prepaid shipping label and can send back 30 empty packets up to twice a month

Disposable face masks and PPE (including lateral flow tests)

If you don’t need to wear a disposable face mask then please consider using a reusable face mask, however if you do use a disposable mask please do not put it in the recycling bin at home – they can’t be recycled with the normal recycling.

There are some specific facemask recycling schemes and these include:

If you would like to set up your own face mask recycling scheme then Terracycle offer schemes for difficult to recycle plastics.

Reworked offer PPE recycling boxes for facemasks, disposable gloves, visors and other plastic-based PPE items such as lateral flow tests, although they do charge.

Polythene products

Polyprint based in Norwich will accept polythene products for recycling. You can post them to:

Polyprint, Earl Road
Rackheath Industrial Estate
NR13 6NT

Please make sure you put the correct postage on any parcels you send to them.

The best way of forwarding this material to them is by 2nd class or parcel post. Parcels without the correct postage will be sent to landfill. Please include your contact details and clearly mark the outside of the package as "for recycling".

Polyprint can accept the following items:

  • bags used to cover electrical appliances or furniture
  • bread bags (shaken out)
  • bin bags (clean)
  • bubblewrap
  • can and drink [multiple pack] outers and plastic joining rings
  • carrier bags (not compostable or biodegradable)
  • cling film (clean)
  • courier bags (without paper labels)
  • dry-cleaning garment wrappers
  • mailing wrappers (without paper labels)
  • polythene recycling categories 2 and 4 (as marked on the film)
  • thin bags used in supermarkets for fruit and veg (shaken out)
  • toilet roll or nappy pack outers


Polystyrene can exist in many forms some of which can be recycled and some of which can’t.

Some polystyrene such as yoghurt pots, margarine pots and food trays can be recycled if your council collects plastic pots, tubs and trays.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is often used in packaging, including that used for take-away food, cannot be recycled and should be placed in your rubbish bin or general waste bin at your household waste recycling centre. Polystyrene used for products such as CD cases, disposable cutlery and disposable razors cannot be recycled and should also be placed in your rubbish bin or in the general waste at the household waste recycling centre.

What happens to the plastic taken to the recycling centres in North Yorkshire?

Once the plastic containers at the household waste recycling centres are full, our contractor takes them to one of their bulking up facilities where they are compacted and baled and sent on for reprocessing to a recycling company.

How is plastic recycled?

Plastics are:

  • sorted
  • shredded
  • washed
  • melted
  • pelletised

Sorting is mainly done automatically to ensure all contamination has been removed.Plastic is either melted down directly and moulded into a new shape, or shredded into flakes then melted down before being processed into granulates.

What are plastics recycled into?

There is a wide range of products made from recycled plastic, including:

  • polyethylene bin liners and carrier bags
  • plastic bottles
  • flooring and window frames
  • building insulation board
  • video and compact disc cassette cases
  • fencing and garden furniture
  • water butts, garden sheds and composters
  • seed trays
  • fleeces
  • fibre filling for sleeping bags and duvets
  • a variety of office accessories

Top ten tips to try and go plastic free

  1. Get a refillable bottle. Carry a refillable bottle with you. You are entitled to request tap water for free as a customer at any licensed premises, or look at the Refill campaign for friendly places to refill your bottle. If you are a business in North Yorkshire with accessible tap water, why not sign up and get promoting.

  2. Use a reusable cloth shopping bag. Leave cloth bags in the boot of your car, and a fold-up one in your handbag or rucksack so it's always handy on the go.

  3. Carry a reusable flask for hot drinks. Ask coffee chains to fill your flask. You will reduce plastic waste and save money as some places offer a discount for a reusable cup.

  4. Choose natural fibre clothing, like organic cotton, hemp or bamboo. Polyester, lycra and nylon are all plastic fabrics and cause microfibre pollution. Watch this hubbub video #whatsinmywash. Sustainable clothing choices can be more expensive, so consider waiting for the sales to purchase. Nevertheless, they last longer, and the 'per-wear' cost works out much cheaper than fast fashion.

  5. Go for washable cloth nappies instead of disposable. If you have a baby, you could save up to £500 by opting for cloth nappies and even more if you have more than one child and can reuse them. There’s lots to choose from, so do your research.

  6. Swap wet wipes for a flannel and water. Switch your makeup wipes and baby wipes for a flannel, and any cleaning wipes for rags or towels. Wipes are convenient but they’ll never be recycled so they will always end up in your bin, so it may be time to make the switch back to that flannel.

  7. Milk deliveries. Replace your plastic milk bottles with a traditional reusable glass bottle delivered to your home

  8. Stop buying fizzy drinks. Get something like a soda stream and turn your tap water into fizz and just add flavours. If you drink fizzy drinks then you’ll notice immediately the reduction in plastic bottles.

  9. Buy loose fruit and vegetables instead of those wrapped in plastic.

Types of plastic and what the numbers mean

Plastic resin codes

This identifies the type of plastic resin used to make the item by providing a Resin Identification Code. It is represented with a chasing arrows symbol surrounding a number between 1 and 7 that defines the resin used. There are more than 50 different types of plastics but six common types have been given codes which help identify them for recycling. There is a seventh category for other plastics.

All bottles 1 to 3 can be recycled at the kerbside throughout North Yorkshire.

Plastic resin codes


1. PET (or PETE): Polyethylene terephthalate

Includes clear drinks bottles, food packaging such as fruit punnets and textile fibres (polyester).

PET bottles are collected by all councils in North Yorkshire. Recycled PET is generally used in fabrics such as fleece, strapping and carpets. New technology allows PET to be recycled into new food packaging. These are collected from households at the kerbside for recycling.

2. HDPE: High density polyethylene

Includes milk bottles, shampoo and cleaning product bottles.

HDPE bottles are collected by all councils in North Yorkshire. They are recycled into garden furniture, litter bins and pipes. New technology allows HDPE to be recycled into new milk bottles. These are collected from households at the kerbside for recycling.

3. PVC: Polyvinyl chloride

Includes window frames, drainage pipes, shower curtains, clothing, toys and large squash bottles.

PVC bottles are collected from households at the kerbside for recycling. PVC use in packaging is in decline.

4. LDPE: Low density polyethylene

Includes carrier bags, yokes holding four or six-packs of cans together and lining or laminating cardboard containers.

Carrier bags are collected by some supermarkets and recycled into low-grade use items such as bin bags. Not collected from households for recycling.

5. PP: Polypropylene

Includes soup pots, margarine tubs, most bottle tops, waterproof clothing and carrier bags.

They are only collected within mixed pots, tubs and trays plastics recycling collections.

6. PS: Polystyrene

Includes take away cups, yoghurt pots and cushioning of breakable objects in packaging.

Expanded polystyrene is not collected from households for recycling. Some non-expanded yoghurt pots can be included in the mixed pots, tubs and trays plastics recycling collections.

7. Other

Includes acrylic glass (perspex), nylon and polycarbonate. Items made from a blend of plastics also fall into this category.

Not collected from households for recycling.