The problem with recycling…

Mel Kee
Mel Kee
Sep 25, 2018 · 3 min read

I always thought recycling was a sure-fire way to, in a very small way, easily reduce my impact on the planet. While I truly believe that reduction is the only way to tackle our unsustainable waste generation, as long as we live in our current plastic wrapped consumer society recycling should be a temporary solution. However, as I’m about to try and relay, it doesn’t always work that way.

All local authorities have targets set by national governments, meaning most homes have kerbside collections and recycling rates are often used as a way for organisations to prove how ‘green’ they are. It’s unlikely you’ll have gone through home, work and leisure in the UK without encountering some kind of recycling.

But I often find myself faced with confused and often downright false facts about recycling. Did you know, for example, that in your kerbside recycling, collected by Sheffield City Council, you can only recycle plastic bottles, and in Rotherham, the council don’t collect any plastics at all.

This leads me on to tell you the one thing that, if you remember nothing from reading this, remember this. Recycling is not uniform. Practically that means that, as a student, its very likely the list of materials you can recycle in your hometown, is different to that which you can recycle in your student house, which is again different to what you can put in our mixed recycling bins on campus. Luckily, if you live in halls you’ll be a bit less confused — recycling is the same across the residences, university buildings and the SU!

If you want to find out what you can recycle in any local area, just enter your postcode at

Here on campus, though, I’ve spent the summer working with the University on what we hope is clear messaging to un-confuse this jumble of information. We’ve tried to clearly highlight the items you can recycle and direct anything else to the general waste bin.

So, in our mixed recycling bin, you can put:

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Mixed Recycling Poster

Remember — everything needs to be clean to go in, so make sure you give any items that have had food or drink in a quick rinse. If you put anything contaminated by food into the mixed recycling food, so any greasy pizza boxes or unrinsed New Leaf salad pots, it could jeopardise everything else in the bin from getting recycled.

Recycling at the University of Sheffield

Now, I have to admit, I’ve told you a bit of a lie when I directed anything not on the mixed recycling poster to the bin. There are some harder-to-recycle items that can still be recycled but it might take a tad more effort. The SU has a brilliant Reuse and Recycling Hub, at the South entrance of the building, next to Our Zero Waste shop, where you can recycle and donate items from bras to batteries.

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Reuse and Recycling Hub at Sheffield SU

You can also check out other recycling points throughout the city which recycle different materials here:

There’s a pretty all-inclusive recycling point for household items down in the Waitrose car park at the bottom of Ecclesall road. Also, top tip, if you take your Tetra Paks — so that’s those cardboard-looking juice and milk containers — to New Roots they will walk them down to a recycling point for you!

So, I hope I’ve gone some way in explaining some of the complications of the often confused world of recycling. Be sure to use Our Zero Waste Shop in the SU and local greengrocers to avoid food packaging, which often makes up a lot what we recycle, and bring your own containers to get takeaway food and drink! Little things like this help us avoid waste in the first place, while taking the time to recycle at least diverts whatever waste we do make from incineration (here in Sheffield) and landfill.

I’d love to hear your opinions or queries on this so feel free to get in touch with me at and look out for my work over the next year improving our campus (and city!) recycling schemes.

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