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Knowing what to recycle or not can be confusing. We hope to dispel myths and give answers to these common questions to help you carry on recycling.

What's the point in recycling, it only ends up in a landfill


All the recyclable materials you put into your green bin have value. Incinerating waste is very expensive – even when energy is recovered from this process. To offset the cost of disposal we sell your recyclable materials to sustainable markets. The money we get back supports council services.

Only materials that don’t fit in the incinerator get sent to landfill. This makes up about 4.2% of all waste collected in Portsmouth. Portsmouth’s landfill rate is one of the lowest in the country.

It's got a recycling symbol on it. That means I can recycle it at home.


Most packaging will have a recycling symbol on it. The recycling symbol means it can be recycled, but not always by us. In Portsmouth, just remember these five things that can be recycled:

  • paper
  • card
  • plastic bottles
  • metal cans/tin
  • aerosol cans.

Other places recycle other plastics so you must be able to


Some councils and business may collect all types of plastics but this doesn’t mean it’s always recycled. There is very little demand for lower-grade plastic (pots, tubs and trays). There are only markets for 20% of these materials. Other places may collect them, but may send it to be incinerated or to landfill.

In Portsmouth, we would rather not collect these plastics if a long-term sustainable market for them is not available.

It doesn't matter if I put the wrong things in the recycling bin


When we take recycling to the sorting facility, anything that is not a material we recycle gets removed from the sorting process. The non-recycling is then taken for incineration or landfill. This costs the council tax payer a lot of money each year – money which could go towards providing extra services.

The worst things to put in your recycling bin are soiled items (such as nappies and food covered packaging) and glass. If these enter the lorry it can contaminate the whole load and be rejected. This means other people’s recycling efforts are wasted, as well as your own.

The most common non-recyclable items in recycling bins are plastic pots, tubs and trays. These must go in your black bin/bags, and not in the recycling bin. The only plastic that can go in your green recycling bin is bottle shaped plastics such as plastic milk bottles, shampoo bottles and water bottles.

If we throw plastic away in the general rubbish, it could end up in the ocean and harm sea life.


In Portsmouth, we incinerate the waste we pick up from your black bags/bins, recovering energy. This means it’s burned to produce heat. This heat is then used to make steam which turns turbines, producing electricity. The electricity is then put into the National Grid. So, plastic you put in your general waste bin will not end up in the ocean.

Plastic litter that is left on beaches or in the street could end up in the ocean, so please take your rubbish home with you or put it in a public litter bin.

Frequently asked questions

Why doesn’t the council collect glass for recycling

The most recycled items are paper and cardboard. If glass enters the recycling vehicle, it smashes and gets into the paper and cardboard. This lowers the quality of the paper and card and can get rejected.

To collect glass kerbside, we’d need new vehicles and crews for a separate collection. This would take time and investment, but it’s something we hope to provide in the future.

You can recycle glass containers by taking them to a bottle bank. Find your nearest glass bank.

Why only collect plastic bottles, and not other plastics?

This is because the plastics that make food pots, tubs, trays, polystyrene and plastic bags are of lower quality and there’s not a sustainable market for them. Plus, our sorting plant can’t separate the different types of plastics. There’s not enough space to fit the additional equipment needed.

Put these other plastics in your ordinary rubbish, and they won’t be wasted. They’re incinerated, which produces electricity.

Why can’t I recycle tin foil?

Because tin foil is used in cooking, it usually has food and grease on it. This could contaminate other recyclables during the recycling process.

Why can’t I recycle cartons and coffee cups?

These are difficult to recycle as they are made of several different materials. Our facility can’t sort between cartons or card/paper. This means we could end up with a lower quality card/paper product.

You can recycle cartons and coffee cups at three sites in Portsmouth:

More sites will be appearing in the near future.

Why do we incinerate the rubbish?

The best way to deal with waste is to reduce and reuse what you can. Then, if an item can’t be re-used, it would be best to recycle it. We send materials we can’t recycle for incineration. This is better for the environment and more cost-effective than landfill.

The incineration process produces heat energy which can be turned into electricity. Also, the bottom ash is used in construction and any metals that come out the end of the process is sent for recycling.

Why is the council collecting food waste?

We analysed the rubbish thrown out in Portsmouth. Food waste made up the biggest part of our waste – about 40%. If we can recycle it instead, then that’s a big win. The current food waste trial of more than 8,000 homes is set to be doubled.

Portsmouth could also end up with its own processing plant, meaning we could recycle our food waste locally. Food waste is made into biofuel and soil improver for farmers. For information to help you reduce food waste, visit Love Food Hate Waste.