Are you ‘wish-cycling’?

Wish-cycling – putting items in a recycling bin when you’re not sure whether they are recyclable or not and just hoping for the best.

According to polls, two-thirds of us (in the UK) admit to being confused about what can and can’t go in the recycling bin.

This does not surprise me at all! I also get confused and there is a lot of misinformation out there that doesn’t make it any easier.

Every year, British households throw away 22 million tons of waste.

The European Union has a target of recycling 50% of that by 2020 but it’s unclear what targets will apply in the UK post-Brexit.

So, how does recycling actually work?

There are 450 councils, each with its own set of rules and regulations so in order to know exactly what your household can recycle, check out the gov website. Pop in your postcode to find a handy guide on what can and can’t be recycled where you live and when they collect.

After collection, items are sorted by machines at recycling centres which separate plastics, paper, aluminum, and other recyclables. These machines are quite complex and if something incorrect ends up in there, it can jam it or even cause it to break. Common culprits for this are soft plastics and small items like bottle tops. Once sorted, recycling centres sell on the materials for the next stage. If a batch is contaminated by something that can’t be recycled, the whole batch ends up in landfill.

Items that often end up in recycling bins but can’t actually be recycled

Pizza boxes – pizza boxes with grease on them can’t be recycled because the oil clogs the machines. However, if the box is just cardboard and has no plastic coating it can actually be put into compost.

Plastic bags – thin, soft plastics like plastic bags and films can get stuck in the machines and jam them. These need to go into landfill so are best avoided wherever possible.

Shredded paper – again, the pieces are too small and can get stuck in the machine. It is still important to shred documents with personal information so opt for paperless where possible so you have less to shred in the first place.

Receipts – most receipts are coated in plastic and contain BPAs. If they get added to recycling, the BPA can contaminate the other materials. Refuse receipts or ask if they can be emailed to you instead.

Bottle tops – bottle tops are too small for the machines to sort. Throw plastic ones in the regular bin and use an old can to collect metals one. Seal it up and put it in the recycling!

How are materials recycled?

Paper – Paper is separated into types and grades. It’s is then washed with soapy water to remove inks, plastic film, staples and glue and then mixed with water. The slurry is spread using large rollers into large thin sheets. The paper is left to dry, and then it is rolled up ready to be cut.

Glass – The glass is sorted by colour and washed to remove any impurities. Then it’s crushed and melted and moulded into new products. Glass does not degrade through the recycling process, so it can be recycled again and again.

Aluminium – In the treatment plant the aluminium is sorted and cleaned ready for reprocessing. It then goes through a re-melt process and turns into molten aluminium to remove coatings and inks that may be present. The aluminium is then made into large blocks called ingots. The ingots are sent to mills where they are rolled out.

Plastic – plastic is the most complex and problematic. While there are some advantages – it’s water resistant, durable – we are producing far too much ‘virgin’ plastic and not recycling enough of what is already in circulation. If you want to read in more detail about how it’s recycled, check out this website –

78 million tons of plastic packaging is produced every year!

Of that;

14% gets collected for recycling

2% gets recycled into new packaging

14% gets incinerated

40% goes to landfill

30% ends up polluting the enviornment

When plastics are taken to recycling centres, there are two options. Send to processers in the UK or export it to be “recycled’ overseas. There are subsidies in place which mean than plastic that stays in the UK must be sorted and the subsidy only applies to the recyclable materials. If the full batch is exported, the subsidy is paid for the full amount. The issue is, there is no guarantee that the exported materials it will actually be recycled. Importers of plastic, like China, then end up receiving low quality mixed bales that are totally useless to them and then end up sitting around for months of even years until they eventually get sent to landfill. It also inflates the recycling rates because everything exported is counted as recycled, even when it’s not. More info on the subsidy and exportation here.

What are the alternatives?


TerraCycle is an innovative recycling company that has become a global leader in recycling typically hard-to-recycle waste.TerraCycle was founded in 2001 by Tom Szaky, then a student at Princeton University, on a mission towards Eliminating the Idea of Waste®. From these humble beginnings TerraCycle has grown into the global leader in collecting and repurposing hard­-to-­recycle waste: operating in over 20 countries, engaging over 60 million people, and recycling billions of pieces of waste through various innovative platforms.

With Terracycle, you can recycle things like contact lenses, bread bags (soft plastics) and crisp packets. You can use their post code search to find local public drop off points.

Lots of retailers now also have drop off points in store. Pop into your local Boots with your old contact lens packets and The Body Shop to recycle your old toiletry and cosmetic containers.


An ecobrick is a building block made entirely from unrecyclable plastic. It’s created by filling a plastic bottle with clean, dry plastic until it’s packed tightly and can be used as a building block.

Ecobricks can be used in all sorts of sustainable building projects, which makes them a great way to dispose of plastic waste that would otherwise end up in landfill, and potentially, the ocean.

Plastic is very durable and eco bricks make great building blocks that last and are also water resistant. Making ecobricks out of the non-recyclable plastic you collect is an amazing way to keep it out of landfill and be give new life in a really useful form.

My Top Tips

  • Embrace minimalism – buying less means less packaging and waste in the first place
  • Use less plastic and opt for materials that are easier to recycle like glass and metal
  • Upcycle/reuse as much as you can so that you don’t have to throw out as much
  • Make Eco bricks with unrecyclable plastic
  • Use Terracycle for hard to recycle items like crisp packets
  • Properly clean and separate everything you put in your recycling
  • Demand a better system – even if you do all the right things, millions of tons of waste is still out there causing havoc so the system has to be changed for the better. George Eustice was appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 13 February 2020 – write to him and let him now what you think!

Follow – @PlasticFreeMermaid

Watch – Dirty Business

Tis the season for sustainability

Fairy lights. The Rat Pack Christmas album.Endless boxes of chocolates. Regressing back to children at our parent’s house. Cosy PJs and Home Alone on the TV.

Christmas means different things to everyone but for most, it’s cosy and familiar and winds up mostly the same year after year.

It can be really challenging to rock the boat and suggest something different so for a lot of us who have been making more of an effort towards sustainability, the holiday season can be a bit nerve wracking.

For most of this list, it’s really helpful to ask yourself “do I buy/do/use this ‘just because’ or is it something that feels integral to this time of year for me?

Get rid of the “just becauses”! It will save you money and cut unnecessary waste.

For the rest, think creatively about how you can adapt them to keep what you like about them but without as much, or any, waste.

This is kind of a long one so grab yourself a mulled wine and a comfy seat!

We often feel under so much pressure this time of year to be at every party, wearing a new party outfit, eating and drinking and often with a pile gifts in tow. It’s can be a time of huge excess and over-consumption.

To help keep the waste, and expense, to a minimum here are some eco swaps and money saving ideas for the holiday season.


To understand the sustainability of our Christmas trees, this Solancha article suggests asking three important questions:

  • What are the inputs in your Christmas tree?
  • How long will those inputs last? In other words, for how long can you use that Christmas tree?
  • How will you dispose of your Christmas tree eventually?

Bearing this in mind, both real and artificial trees can be very unsustainable. The most eco-friendly thing you can do is create a tree from upcycled materials so if you are the crafty type this is the perfect time for you to get really creative. Check these out for inspiration –

Up to 8 million Christmas trees are bought every December in the UK alone. That’s a lot of intensive production, and potentially a lot of waste.Friends of the Earth

In order to mitigate some of the damage done by our carbon emissions, we need to plant more trees basically everywhere. They are also an important habitat for animals we need to protect for biodiversity. Cutting millions down every year just to put them in our living room for a few weeks, and then have them end up in landfill, has to stop.

Artificial trees may last for years but require lots of energy to produce and are just more plastic to dispose of. If you have one already, keep using it and take care of it – make it last as long as possible. If your situation mean artificial is the best option for whatever reason, you can try to buy a second-hand one on Schpock,  eBay  or Gumtree.

But all is not lost! If you, like me, love the smell of a real tree as one of the best things about Christmas then you will love this alternative options!

Tree rental – Get a pot-grown tree, water it and then send it back to be replanted in the tree farm for the following year. Genius!

Use (or grow) your own – If you gave garden space you can do the same thing at home by using or buying a tree with roots so you can grow it outside and use it again each year.

Tips for looking after them inside here –


One of the most effective strategies for staying in budget when buying Christmas presents is to have a Sinking Fund which you spread out across the year and contribute to every month. When the season approaches, you use the savings to buy presents. 

Low Waste Gift Ideas:

  • Experiences – this is my personal favourite! It’s big bonus if it’s something you can do together because then you are also gifting them some quality time. 😊 Some other ideas are dinner, concert tickets, comedy event, a museum exhibit or a class in something they’ve always wanted to learn. Eventbrite is an excellent resource for events and classes and a whole range of prices as well for every budget.
  • Crafts – make something at home. Cookies, cakes, hot chocolate jar, homemade beauty products – you can decorate and personalise them as well to make them even more special.
  • For the coffee lover who you keep seeing with single use cups – Keep Cup (it’s also great for wine!)
  • S’well Bottle – some people are STILL buying plastic bottles. Gift them a beautiful reusable and they’ll never want to drink out of anything else.
  • Plants – who doesn’t love plants? They look amazing, clean the air and have a calming effect.

*I’m not being paid to recommend any of these, I just genuinely love them but I would absolutely accept payment if they offered!


I cringe when I see people ripping open wrapping paper and bits are strewn all over the floor. There are better options than single use wrapping paper.

Most of us love a bit of festive decoration and fancy wrapping, and who doesn’t like getting Christmas cards? But research suggests that the paper waste over the Christmas period is equivalent to 5-12 million litres of biofuel – enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times. – Friends of the Earth

  • Gift bags that get used over and over are the best. Re-use ones you’ve been gifted or invest in some you know can be reused. Avoid writing on the label so it looks as good as new.
  • Get creative – you can use magazine and newpapers to make gift bags or as wrapping paper. 
  • Please don’t buy any wrapping paper with glitter – it’s basically just a load of micro plastics! Besides, it’s impossible to stick anyway. 


Tis the season of overindulgence. And obscene waste. It’s estimated that we waste up to 30% more at this time of year. Please, only buy food you intend to eat. 

  • Leftovers are always the best part.
  • If you have too much – freeze some portions to have later on.
  • Go veggie (or even better, vegan!)
  • Bake your own mince pies
  • Visit your local ‘zero-waste’ store for package-free chocolates and treats

For more on reducing food waste, see my previous post.


Mulled wine, baileys coffees, hot whiskeys. Mmmmmmm. Festive drinks are one of the best things about the season. Luckily, most alcohol comes in glass bottles so you don’t have to navigate a plastic minefield here!

To find some cheap deals, check out Approved food.

To reduce waste these are my top tips:

  • Try to buy organic
  • Repurpose or upcycle the bottles (Pinterest is your best friend here).
  • Make sure you recycle everything you can (class bottles, cans, recyclable plastic.


Around this time of year, you will probably be inundated with emails and seeing ads everywhere for ‘party wear’. Have you ever noticed that it is the same stuff every single year? Sparkly and jewel colours, Every. Single. Year. 

Avoid falling into the trap of buying yet another dress basically the same as the ones you’ve bought every year. Here are some tactics you can try instead:

  • Buy from a charity shop.
  • Swap with a friend.
  • If you love the ones you have in your wardrobe – wear those!
  • Add some festive accessories to a basic black dress. 

Fast Fashion isn’t free, someone somewhere is paying the price – Lucy Siegle

The fashion industry is the second biggest producer of carbon emissions after fossel fuels! Avoid adding to the madness this Christmas.


According to research 1.5 BILLION Christmas cards are thrown away in the UK each year.

Save trees, and money by forgoing this tradition. Send an e card in stead or better yet, video call and wish them a Merry Christmas face to face!

A zer-waste, or even low-waste, Christmas will be hard! Christmas is a time to spend with family and not everyone is on the same wavelength as you so compromise is important and enjoying each others’ company is the priority. Do what you can to reduce your own waste, be patient with curious (or even judgemental!) enquiries and maybe next year you’ll see some of your loved ones taking a leaf out of your book!