A guide to recycling
You are in: surefish > ethical living > Recycling
Date: 13 March, 2008


'We throw away 29.1 million tonnes of rubbish every year.'


Suzanne Elvidge offers the Surefish guide to recycling – what you can and can’t and why

Click on the blue links to go to other websites with further information.

Why recycle?

Britain is fast running out of landfill sites. This is because each year in the UK we throw away 29.1 million tonnes each year . Recycling also saves energy, water and resources, creates jobs and reduces pollution.

Recycling also raises money for charities such as Christian Aid which benefits if you recycle your ink cartridges or mobile phones.

Watch celebrity designer Oliver Heath talk about recycling on You Tube

What can be recycled

Glass jars and bottles

Recycling glass saves enough energy to boil water for two cups of tea. Glass can be recycled into tiles, jewellery, glasses and insulation, and used in sandblasting and road building, or of course made into more glass.

Steel and aluminium cans

Both aluminium and steel cans can be recycled. In the UK, we use 13 billion steel cans every year, and 5 billion aluminium cans. Recycling aluminium takes only 5% of the energy of making aluminium from its ore, bauxite, and recycling steel saves energy and raw materials. Cans can be recycled again and again.


Plastic can be recycled into a wide range of things, including plastic cups recycled into rulers, plastic bags recycled into book covers, and plastic bottles made into fibre and recycled into loft insulation, duvets and fleeces. If your council doesn’t take carrier bags, try your local supermarket. Many offices have plastic cup recycling facilities.

Juice and milk cartons

Some local councils are now recycling juice and milk cartons. These can be recycled into paper products or made into bags.

Paper and cardboard

For every tonne of paper recycled, we can save on average 15 trees, and it saves up to 70% energy as well as saving water. Paper (including newspapers, magazines and junk mail) and cardboard can be recycled into toilet rolls, coffins, and of course, more paper.

Paper and cardboard can also be composted. Yellow Pages can now be recycled, and if your school is involved, can raise money for the Woodland Trust.


You can drop clothes off in a clothing bank at a recycling centre. These are either resold or recycled into fabric or paper. You could also take them to a charity shop or join Freecycle and pass them on.

Mobile phones

Only 1 in 25 mobile phones are recycled, and cell phone components can be toxic. Phones can be reused (try Freecycle) or recycled.

Send your phone to the Recycling Appeal and Christian Aid will receive £4. If you can’t recycle from your doorstep or in walking distance, try to fit recycling trips in with other journeys, like going to the local shops or farmer’s market.

What can’t be recycled

While I’m not suggesting that you go as far as building a house out of newspaper, it’s important to think about reducing and reusing before recycling, especially for items that can’t be recycled..


Books can’t easily be recycled because of the glue in the spines. Instead, drop them in a book recycling bin, donate them to a charity shop, sell them to Green Metropolis and buy more books, or swap them.


The sticky strips and plastic windows can make envelopes difficult to recycle. Once you have removed the stamps (these can go to charity) and the window, the envelopes can be shredded and composted, or put sticky labels over the plastic window or old address and reuse them

Yogurt pots, margarine tubs and ice cream tubs

Yogurt pots and other plastic containers (other than bottles) can be hard to recycle as they are made of polystyrene. Instead, you can reuse them as storage or plant pots (or many other things).

Plastic wrapping

Plastic wrapping is hard to recycle, so reusing is probably the best bet – make rag rugs or use it to protect books that you are recycling through BookCrossing.

Light bulbs

Many local authorities won’t accept light bulbs. Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs can be made into vases or Christmas decorations .

Low energy bulbs are also difficult to recycle, and contain low levels of mercury (however, one toxicologist has said you would need to smash five in a small unventilated room to pose much of a risk).

Because they last longer they reduce the amount of waste you produce, and of course use less energy. There are recycling points for these now, or contact your local council to see if they can recycle them for you.

If you are in London, Ryness will recycle your low energy bulbs.

Reduce and reuse

As a reminder about what you can and can’t recycle and compost, you could print out lists on magnetic paper and stick them to the fridge.

You could also play a recycling game, like the Barnaby Bear recycling game, or read about some recycling myths.

And finally – look out for our competition to win recycled wine glasses.

• Read other ethical lifestyle articles


© Christian Aid
Surefish.co.uk - the Christian community website from Christian Aid

Christian Aid is a member of the