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Plastic recycling – what you need to know

Plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose in landfill while other plastic, as you will have seen on the news, ends up in the sea and damages ecosystems. There is a simple alternative: Recycle as much of it as you can – most of it can be.

You can also save on waste by reducing how much plastic you buy and also reusing things like plastic bottles before you recycle them – or just not buying disposable bottles in the first place and having a reusable one.

We published a handy guide recently to the symbols you can find on plastic products, which can indicate whether or not it is recyclable. You can see this table again further down in this article.

A few questions were posed by readers in response to the article, and here are the answers to them:

Q:Can I recycle plastic carrier bags?

A: Yes, but not in your household recycling bin. Many supermarkets, particularly the larger ones, will have collection bins to recycle your old carrier bags. It is best, of course, not to buy single-use bags anyway. It is a waste of resources, as well as your money. Use reusable bags, or ‘bags for life’…and always try to remember them when going out shopping – something we are all sometimes guilty of failing at.

Q: Can I recycle polystyrene and clingfilm?

A: No. Polystyrene and clingfilm is not recyclable so it is best avoided when buying products if you can. The only exception is a type of polystyrene used for certain yoghurt pots – these will be indicated with a ‘6 PS’ symbol somewhere on the packaging (see table below). Instead of clingfilm, you can get reusable-type food wrap/covers now or use Tupperware. Reusable plastic bottles are also far better than buying disposable plastic water bottles.

Q: What is more important? The general instruction not to recycle flower pots or the symbol on the bottom of it?

A: Most flower pots are made with a type of plastic that is not commonly recyclable; hence the general instruction that they are not accepted in your recycling bin. However, if you check the symbol and it is one of the ‘good’ symbols that indicate it is recycled in Ealing, then that should take precedence – use that as your guide. Often, sadly, plastic flower pots can not be recycled.


The symbols on the bottom of many plastic products identify the different types of plastic and their chemical composition – and if they can be recycled.

See the table below for more details of the symbols. You can also get lots more advice and information on recycling in our borough at www.ealing.gov.uk/recycling

Plastics recycling - using symbols as a guide
Plastics recycling – using symbols as a guide

You can download this recycling table as a PDF table

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