10 items that can be difficult to recycle

Next week is Recycle Week 2021, so we wanted to get our readers warmed up and ready to tackle the week with our favourite tips for stepping it up this year. If you’ve been a Greenredeem member for a while, you’ll know we’re passionate about recycling. We’re always thinking of ways to reduce and reuse, with recycling being the last resort. But what happens when it comes to the items that are difficult to recycle? Here’s how we tackle those situations and avoid some of them altogether. 

Difficult to recycle: Crisp packets 

Arguably Britain’s favourite snack. We love a bag of crisps. Big ones to share (or not), smaller ones to go with our lunches or the entire multipack for a late-night movie feast. The ultimate snack. But there’s one problem. 16 million packs are thrown away each day and you cannot recycle them at home. 

So, here’s how we reduce the waste. Now, we’re not throwing out the crisps just yet, but we are making our own! Grabbing potatoes, slicing and seasoning accordingly, and then baking them to perfection. We’ve got some recipes for flavours on our food upcycling blog if you’re curious. This removes the packaging altogether. On the other hand, if you can’t kick the monster munchies, collect your packets and recycle them all at once at these recycling locations

Toothpaste tubes 

Avoiding toothpaste is a little different to avoiding crisps. But like most products in 2021, there is a version that is more eco-friendly to help reduce waste. Toothpaste tubes are difficult to recycle. In general, they cannot be recycled at kerbside. Like crisp packets, there are options to recycle them through Colgate’s programme

Alternatively, you can try a new form of toothpaste. There’s toothpaste tablets, or toothpaste in a jar. Admittedly, it may take time to find a taste and type of eco-dental care that works for you. But once you’re on your way, you’ll dramatically reduce your waste! Plus, imagine the carbon footprint reduction you’ll make by not travelling to recycling locations. 

Are bread bags difficult to recycle?

In the UK the average person will go through over 60 loaves of bread in a year. That’s a lot when you consider our population and its current growth rate! But what happens to all the bags? Sadly, they’re not widely recycled at kerbside, which means many people need to go to a soft recycling location

Likewise, with other items, there is always a reduce option and it involves shopping in smaller businesses or heading to the bakery counter in your supermarket. Grab a loaf without the packaging. You can pop it in your own tote bag or purchase a special eco-friendly bread bag to store it in. This way you can help support small businesses and reduce your impact on waste. Even if your council allows you to recycle your bread bag at kerbside we think this is a great simple swap! 


If you’ve ever ordered anything or consumed a takeaway you’ve no doubt, come into contact with polystyrene. It’s important to remember that polystyrene, although made from plastic, is not recyclable. Expanded polystyrene, as it is formally known, will squeak when you rub pieces together or tear it. This noise is your alarm to avoid contaminating your recycling and head straight for the waste bin. How to avoid it? Before ordering a parcel or a food item, see if the company states what packaging materials they use  

Many companies recognise the need to supply eco-friendly packaging. Larger corporations and small businesses are providing packaging information on their websites more and more lately. If you’re looking for an item that can be purchased from multiple locations, buy from the company that will provide eco-packaging. Reducing your impact and waste. 

Wine glasses 

Many of us have been there, especially with wine glasses. Whether it’s in the middle of an evening party or slipping from your hand as you wash up. Broken glasses. But did you know you cannot recycle these? They’re a hazard and put workers at risk so recycling companies ask that these go in the general waste bin wrapped in newspaper. 

You can however recycle other pieces of glass such a cooking sauce jars and glass bottles. Even though the accidental glass smash is rare, there are ways to reduce your impact on these difficult to recycle items. While it is possible to reuse it in some delicate crafts, it can be dangerous. So, we decided to try and source more ethically create wine glasses for everyday use, saving the shiny new glasses for special occasions. We thought about purchasing from charity shops, but also found recycled wine glasses and upcycled wine glasses. Some were even stemless reducing the chances of dropping the glass! Here’s how these glasses helped reduce our impact: 

  • Helps to create a circular economy by reusing materials 
  • Prevents new materials being sourced, naturally reducing their carbon footprint 
  • Positively reinforcing the idea of recycling (which is as much about buying recycled products as it is about recycling itself) 
  • These items are more durable and less likely to break, directly reducing waste

Is kitchen roll difficult to recycle?

The inner tubes of kitchen roll, recyclable. The actual paper isn’t – even if you haven’t used it – although throwing away clean sheets is a strange action in our eyes anyway. We must add here, that when you use kitchen roll, please always pop it in the bin. Never in your recycling OR down your drains. That’s right, kitchen roll CANNOT go in your drains. It isn’t designed to break down like toilet paper. 

We ditched the kitchen roll in our offices and at home a long time ago. Then we discovered that having reusable microfibre cloths were far better to use. Now we simply wash them when we wash the rest of our towels. Removing the issue of them being difficult to recycle as we never need them!

Unrinsed containers 

This is a huge sticking point for contaminated recycling. Containers like shampoo bottles and sauce jars are notorious for it. They’re widely recycled and the perfect items to recycle too. But far too many people pop them in their bins without rinsing them. But why is this an issue? 

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Items that are not clean can contaminate other recycling items, rendering the entire collection useless. What’s more, the automated sorting process will weigh the item and decide it is too heavy to be recycled so it is discarded. Not to mention the liquids can damage the machines. Of course, there are ways to upcycle items like glass jars instead, but if you are recycling them make sure they’re prepared correctly.


8 years bad luck? Don’t worry, it’s happened to the best of us. We’re pretty sure we’ve got another 20 years on our timeline yet! But, what to do with a smashed mirror or one we no longer want? Mirrors aren’t recyclable at kerbside, although we can put pieces, wrapped safely, into our waste bins (not recycling bins). As always there are some alternative things you can do with a mirror. 

You can find plenty of ideas here including: creating mirror mosaics, reusing the frames or even making a jewellery holder! 

Troublesome paper 

You would think that paper in all forms is recyclable. But this isn’t always the case. Foil lined gift wrapping, post-it notes, and paper that has been painted on – none of it is recyclable. That means those sweet cards that your children make at nursery, cannot be recycled – neither can the notes around the house to your other half reminding them to take the bins out. It’s important to not generalise paper as it comes in many different forms. If you’re ever unsure feel free to send us a message! 

As you can see there are many items that are difficult to recycle. Whether it’s because they cannot be collected at kerbside, or they’re commonly recycled by accident. The important thing to remember is that there’s almost always a way to reduce or reuse the item instead. Try to view recycling as the final option rather than the first. If you’ve got any great reducing swaps or reusing ideas, pop them in the comments below and share with other like-minded eco-warriors! 

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