A new survey shows that householders in the UK are more aware than ever of the environmental benefits of recycling but ongoing confusion could mean they are doing more harm than good.
The research, carried out by the British Science Foundation, found eight out of ten people believe recycling makes a difference, yet no-one was able to score full marks when quizzed on what rubbish can be recycled.
Results show used kitchen roll, soap pump-dispenser tops, metallic wrapping paper, greasy pizza boxes and disposable coffee cups are the most common items wrongly put in the recycling bin.
Other common errors include failure to empty and rinse shampoo bottles or food containers and not removing plastic inserts from boxes.
This means tonnes of recyclable waste is ending up in landfill, potentially polluting the environment.
The top reason given among those who admitted they don’t recycle all they can was uncertainty over what can and cannot be recycled.
And despite the current movement to reduce the amount of plastic polluting the landscape and oceans, millennials were found to be less likely to recycle their waste than older generations.
Two in ten Brits aged between 25 and 34 said they find the practice too time-consuming and do not make a habit of it. Additionally, nearly a third of the younger age group admitted taking less care with recycling at work than at home.
Experts say the findings show the public need more clarity on the dos and don’t of recycling in order to protect the environment.
“It’s encouraging to see lots of people are concerned about plastic waste, but what you can and can’t put in the recycle bin can often be confusing,” said Ivvet Modinou, head of engagement at the British Science Association.
“The industry as a whole needs to address this issue if we are to collectively improve recycling performance.
“For instance, manufacturers of plastic products could provide clearer information on packaging and local councils should be actively working to improve guidance for local residents.
“In addition, small, individual actions can really make a difference – such as asking your local cafe not to stock plastic straws, or checking the back of packaging for recycling information.”
Craig Stephens, campaign manager for Recycle Now, added: “By recycling everything we can, we can find new life for materials and reduce the chance of them ending up in our environment.”