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03 October 2023

How To Recycle (Nearly) Everything

We all know that the best thing for the planet is to reduce the amount we buy. If we can reuse our shopping bags instead of getting new ones each time, for instance, it quickly makes a difference. Despite our best intentions though we live in a world that has got used to the convenience of single use and disposables. The tide might be turning but from coffee cups to packaging there is a long way to go. It isn't just small items either, it is often cheaper to buy a new washing machine, microwave or TV than to get an old one fixed. So what do you do with the broken one? And what about items in your house that you no longer need? This post runs through the options on how you can sell, giveaway and recycle as many of your unwanted belongings as possible whether they are broken or still usable. 

A series of recycling bins
How to recycle, sell or giveaway items you no longer need and avoid adding to landfill

Better Alternatives To Throwing Away Household Items

Can you sell it?

While there are a few items that you can sell for scrap due to the value of the material (eg metal and some textiles) selling is generally only an option if your items are in good working condition. The good news is that there are lots of different ways to sell second hand items depending on what they are and your preference. They include:
  • Online person to person sales via sites like: Vinted, EBay, Facebook Marketplace and Depop.
  • In person sales at car boot sales, nearly new sales, front yard sales and auctions.
  • Bulk buying websites like Music Magpie that will buy bulk buy books, CDs and DVDs. They often pay only a very small amount per item, but if you have enough to sell it can add up.

Can you give it away?

If your items are low value, you want to get rid of them fast or you aren’t concerned about money then there are plenty of options for giving reusable items away. 
  • Charity shops are the obvious choice. You can pass on several bags of items at a time and choose which charity you want to support. If you pay tax you can also sign up for gift aid so the charity can claim extra money on items sold.
  • Larger items can be given away in some Facebook groups as well as sites like Freegle, Freecycle and Gumtree (you can also charge for items on Gumtree). You might be surprised what people will come and collect when offered for free.

Recycle It

Many items that are no longer reusable as they are can be recycled. The easiest place to do this is via the doorstep recycling which is collected by your council. A wider range of items can be collected at your local Council recycling centre, but you have to take the items to them. Specialised companies and charities will also accept a wide range of items, these will vary depending on the charities in your area.

Common Recycling Questions

What can I recycle in my road side recycling?

This varies hugely from council to council so check the details carefully for what your council collects and how they ask for it to be sorted. Councils in the UK will generally collect: paper, card, metal and glass and normally some plastics (like yoghurt pots) in weekly or fortnightly collections.

What can I recycle at council recycling centres?

The large recycling centres (once called tips or dumps) vary on what they can collect so check online or visit yours in person, especially if you are planning a big clear out as it will help you separate items out correctly. My nearest location has large bins for general waste (the last resort), metal, cardboard and timber. It has smaller bins for glass and clothes. It also collects electricals, paint tins, books, batteries, cooking oil, engine oil, light bulbs, printer cartridges and tyres. You can check online to see what they accept, their opening times and if you have to prebook. Remember you will often have to bring proof of address to make sure you live in the area.  

Where can I get rid of soft toys?

  • If the soft toys are clean, in reasonable condition and have their safety labels (CE mark) they can be given away to many charity shops. 
  • Some schools, PTAs and charities accept second hand soft toys for their “teddy tombola”. 
  • Some dog kennels will accept them.

Can toys be recycled?

There are lots of options for passing on old toys if they have all the parts, are working and are in reasonable condition, but if they aren’t usable what are the options? 
  • Some companies provide replacement pieces if just a few are missing eg LEGO and Orchard Toys.
  • Hasbro were running a scheme with TerraCycle where you could send back their toys for recycling but this is on hold until 2024. 
  • Your best (free option) at the moment is to take out any parts that can be recycled eg batteries and cardboard and recycle those. 
  • Check if your local recycling centre recycles old toys, otherwise they are going to have to go in general waste.

Where can you get rid of or recycle electricals?

  • The easiest way to get rid of your unwanted electrical items when you upgrade or replace a broken item is to give it to the store you are buying the replacement from. The Electrical Retailer Take-back scheme is available at 1000s of shops. It means you can bring your old electrical item to wherever you bought the replacement one within 28 days of purchase for free. Look for signs in store with details.
  • Curry’s will accept small tech items (TV’s and smaller) in store for recycling regardless of if you buy the new item from them and you will get a £5 voucher. They also offer trade in options for some items.
  • Alternatively you can take your old electrical products to your local council recycling centre.

Where can I get rid of unwanted food?

  • It’s always a good idea to check your cupboards regularly and if you have unopened but in date food that you are unlikely to eat you can pass it on to someone who will appreciate it. 
  • Local foodbanks will gratefully receive food donations. You can drop items off directly at the foodbanks or most supermarkets now have a basket after the tills where they collect for local foodbanks so if there are just a few items you can leave them there.
  • It is also worth looking at Olio, an app where you can share unwanted food with your neighbours.
  • If the food is past it's Use By date the best option is to add it to a home compost bin or put in your council collected green waste (without the packaging) as it may be unsafe to eat.
  • If the food is past it's Best Before date and looks like it is still edible you can share it on Olio and similar apps. 

Where can I get rid of unwanted furniture?

  • If the furniture is no longer useable it might have to go to landfill, however if it is made from wood it can be added to the timber collection points at recycling centres. 
  • If the furniture is only slightly damaged it might be suitable for upcycling. It is worth listing it on sites like Freegle and Freecycle, but provide a good description and photos so people know what they are getting.
  • Unwanted, but usable furniture will often be collected by local charities for free to pass on to families in need or to sell in their stores. The Salvation Army for instance, has many collection points around the country and offer free local collection of furniture, but lots of other charities offer similar services too.

Where can I recycle used batteries?

  • Most batteries can be recycled. The normal small ones (including button batteries) are widely collected at supermarkets and shops as since 2010 all shops selling over 32kg of batteries have to provide a collection point. 
  • Some councils will collect them with the home recycling if put in a separate bag. 
  • Larger batteries including those for computers, phones and cars can all be recycled but will normally need to go to larger collection points like council recycling centres.

What can I do with old medicine?

  • There are some schemes which look at redistributing old medicine, but it is generally considered that medicine can’t be reused or recycled for safety reasons.
  • You can return medication to pharmacies in the UK for safe disposal. 
  • Old blister packs can be recycled via Superdrug pharmacies, although they have reduced the scheme so many of the blister packs may end up being thrown away.

Which shops take old clothes? 

  • As well as charity shops there are several large chain stores which accept old clothes and linen which might be a convenient way for you to pass on a small number of items. TK Maxx collect clothes for CRUK, Primark partners with Yellow Octopus and M&S partner with Oxfam. 
  • Primark say they take bags and shoes as well as clothes. 
  • If you are signed up to the M&S loyalty card Sparks you can get a treat every time you drop off clothes by scanning the QR code. 
  • If you drop off clothes at an Oxfam store which include an M&S item you can get a £5 voucher to spend at M&S.
  • If the clothes are no longer wearable many charity shops (including Cancer Research) will accept them as rags which they can bulk sell. Check with your preferred store to see if they offer this option and make sure you mark the bag clearly as rags.

Can underwear be recycled?

  • Used clean underwear can go in textile recycling collections (not clothes banks) where they will be collected and shredded for insulation and packaging.
  • If they are in good condition consider passing on bras and adult socks to charities which will ensure they are reused. Against Breast Cancer  collects Bras and M&S also allow bras to be donated in their instore Shwop boxes. Many homeless shelters will accept good condition underwear including socks, have a look online to find shelters near you.

Where can you donate old glasses and spectacles?

If your glasses are no longer the right prescription they might be able to help someone else. There are a number of companies which will collected no longer needed spectacles including: 
  • Specsavers and Recycline take glasses apart and turn them into new items. There are collection points in several places including Specsavers stores and ASDA.
  • Lions Club International accept glasses which they then redistribute to people who need them. While this scheme works well in America, less of the UK branches seem to take part. Contact your nearest branch via the website to find out if they will accept donations. 
  • Retrospecced take designer or vintage glasses for reselling, 20% of profits go to charity. The spectacles are reglazed so it doesn’t matter if they are scratched, but the frames need to be in excellent condition.

How Do I recycle coffee pods?

Nespresso pods can be recycled at collection points in Nespresso stores, but the widest scheme for recycling coffee pods is Podback. Podback work with some councils to offer recycling at the kerbside or recycling centres, but in many locations you will need to request a Podback bag and send it back to them via Yodel. 
They only accept plastic and aluminium pods from their member brands so if you buy a cheap supermarket version you might be out of luck when it comes to recycling (although Aldi and Ocado are part of the scheme). Bags for the Podback Drop-Off service are available from all Podback member brands, branches of Morrisons and online at 
The website makes it really easy to find out the options where you live depending on where your pods are from. 

Reusing soft plastics with Ecobrick

Ecobricks are an interesting idea where you essentially stuff a plastic bottle full of softer plastic to make a solid plastic brick. These Ecobriks can then be used for various purposes such as a building block. It sounds like a great idea, but for the ecobrick to be useable you need to closely follow the guidelines and all plastics must be completely clean and dry before stuffing in a bottle. You need to check the types of plastics you can use and the information about the type of bottle that can be used (building requires the same size bottles).

What Do TerraCycle Recycle?

TerraCycle partner with many companies to recycle an interesting collection of products including, bizarrely Babybel packaging. Some of the most useful schemes to know about are:

You can request a free shipping envelope via Gillette and return razors and razor blades of any make (men's and women's) 

Pens, felt tips, highlighter and Tipp-ex (plastic or metal, but not wood based) can be recycled via instore bins in many Ryman’s stores, this is sponsored by BIC.

Foil balloons and foil banners can be recycled via Card Factory stores. This is sponsored by Amscan, but all foil balloon makes are accepted. Just bring them to a participating Card Factory store. 

Food storage containers and plastic bottles can also be recycled via TerraCycle. If your plastic bottles have started to leak or crack or you have given up on finding the lid for that Tupperware box then you can recycle them in a scheme sponsored by Sistema. Collect up a box full and then you can either print a label and post via UPS or use inPost which doesn’t require a printer. You will need to sign up to a TerraCycle account.

A single use coffee cup and lid with a field and long grass behind
There needs to be a conscious effort from consumers and companies to avoid single use products

Looking around my house the big problem is hard plastics. Our roadside recycling takes a lot of plastic from food products and packaging including bags and bottle, but that is only a small amount of the plastic in our house. Plastic surrounding electricals can be taken for recycling, but there is a lot of hard plastic that isn’t widely recycled, from hangers to toys. 
Plastic is really useful, but items tend to break and not be easily repairable or be used as packaging and unless hard recycling facilities improve that’s a huge amount going to land fill. It’s definitely made me think twice about what I buy. For some products the only option I have seen is to buy a TerraCycle zero waste bag or box which you can fill with various plastics that are harder to recycle, but this isn’t an affordable option for many. 

Useful websites to find out more about what you can recycle and where: 

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