Is recycling as good as they make out?

The amount of plastic waste we are producing in the UK is increasing but the amount that actually gets recycled is decreasing. Only 43.8% (UK Statistics on Waste, Defra1) of plastic waste is recycled! It is estimated that in the UK we use on average 35.8 million plastic bottles2 every day but only 19.8 million are recycled! And then there are the plastic items that can’t be recycled. Approximately 2 billion disposable razors3 and 264 million toothbrushes (in the UK) are thrown away each year! So maybe recycling isn’t the answer, and we need to look at the alternatives.

The average household in the UK uses approximately the following items in one year:

  • 216 haircare items in plastic packaging4
  • 24 bottles of shower gel
  • 108 toilet rolls (wrapped in plastic)
  • 24 tubes of toothpaste
  • 18 washing up liquid bottles
  • 26 laundry liquid bottles

The 5 R’s of zero waste were introduced by Bea Johnson5 in 2013 to help us move away from recycling and focus on other priorities.  

  1. Refuse – Know how to say no to items that aren’t essential.
  2. Reduce – Adopt minimalist tendencies and reduce what you own and buy.
  3. Reuse/Repair – Give items you already own a second life.
  4. Recycle – Prioritise buying items in recyclable packaging.
  5. Rot – Compost all your organic waste.

But what does this actually mean and how can we implement it in our everyday lives?


This means saying no to the things that are unnecessary and leave us with plastic to dispose of or items that have taken large amounts of energy to produce. That could be:

  • Freebies – like pens or other promotional plastic items.
  • Flyers and business cards that are handed out.
  • Junk mail
  • Single use plastic – straws, shopping bags, pre-packaged takeaway food items.


Choosing quality over quantity allows you to slowly reduce the number of items you own and purchase. It does require you to take a step back and consider what items add value to your life and what you can manage without. Some things to consider when making a purchase are choosing multipurpose items, looking at shopping local to reduce your carbon footprint, and seeing what local buy, swap and sell groups have on offer.

You may find it useful to ask yourself the following questions6 when considering making a larger purchase:

  1. Do I genuinely need this item?
  2. Do I already have something with similar purpose?
  3. Does this item add value to my life?
  4. Will I use it for a long period of time?
  5. Is it something that is worth taking up space in my physical and mental environment?
  6. Will it support my long-term happiness?
  7. Can I borrow or hire it instead?


Choosing sustainable or reusable alternatives allows us to reduce our reliance on single use plastic. Repairing items that are worn or damaged extends their lifespan and reduces how much we are purchasing. If you are just starting out, then the big six reusable items are considered to be a reusable water bottle, reusable straws, a reusable coffee cup, fabric shopping bags, fabric produce bags, and reusable food wraps.

Before you start replacing everything you own, see what you already have that can be reused or only replace them as they get to the end of their lifespan. If you can’t repair items yourself then look for companies that repair specific items or use fix it cafes or pop ups.


Recycling is now considered for items that cannot be refused, reduced or reused. There are always going to be items that we cannot, or struggle to, find plastic free. Try to choose items that come in packaging that can be recycled. 


“Give the rest back.” Composting all organic waste, either through home composting or curb side collections, is the final way to reduce what goes to landfill. From vegetable peelings to scraps of paper, garden waste to coffee grounds! All of these can be added to your compost bin but check with your local council to see what can be included in curb side collections.


How can you reduce the amount of plastic you have to recycle? We’ll be looking at other alternatives on our social media and in our next blog post to help you decide what changes to make. Let me know how you get on with any changes you make, or the successful changes you have already made!