Dealing with the plastic pollution problem is at the top of many people's agenda, and is being widely debated. David Attenborough's spectacular Blue Planet takes much of the credit for bringing the problem to decision makers and public attention. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, three times the size of France, apparently now contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets.

The size of the problem can lead to a feeling of helplessness, that the problem's too big for small changes to make a difference, that whatever we do is too little, too late. But the micro changes individuals make will make a difference, and the more we know, the better we are equipped to reduce the devastating damage that is being inflicted on the planet.

While cutting plastic out of our lives is clearly the most effective solution, the material is so widely used that the challenge is immense. But we can make a big difference by optimising the lifespan of plastic by reusing and recycling wherever possible. And by knowing exactly which plastics can be recycled where.

There are more than 50 different types of plastics. Most can be recycled, but different areas, depending on the technology available, recycle different types. And some packaging includes several different types of plastic which makes it much harder to recycle.

For example, black plastic food trays, widely used by supermarkets, are particularly difficult, and few councils are able to recycle them. This situation may change as new technology is introduced. Yogurt pots too are a confusing issue - some are made of the same material used for plastic bottles and can be recycled, while others are made from polystyrene which isn't widely accepted.

Some help can be found from packaging labels and recycling symbols that appear on many everyday items. You can find a good guide to these symbols on the recyclenow.com website: Recycle Now

How else can you bring clarity to a very unclear issue?

Check your local council's website to see which plastics they accept and which should go into the regular rubbish. Links:

Nottinghamshire County Council
Rushcliffe Borough Council
Nottingham City Council

Throwing non-recyclable plastics into the recycling can contaminates the recycling stream, and that makes the whole process much less efficient and cost effective.

More useful plastic recycling pointers:

  • Sometimes a council does not accept a certain plastic as part of its collection, but will accept that same plastic if you drop it off.

  • If you can't find out whether an item can be recycled, its often safer to throw it in the regular rubbish to avoid contaminating the collection.

  • Always rinse or clean plastic containers before recycling

  • Start to factor in the recyclability of a container when you select the product you're buying.

If possible, make choices that cut out plastic altogether. The largest market for plastic is packaging, so the more you can employ reusable containers rather than single-use, the better.

  • Carry a travel mug and water bottle for takeaway drinks

  • Avoid excessive packaging - by choosing non pre-packaged foods, and shopping in outlets that sell loose fruit and vegetables

  • Say 'no' to plastic cutlery and straws.

  • If you have a local milk delivery, use it. Milk comes in glass bottles!

  • Remember to carry your own shopping bags - at all times!

Every little thing we do to reduce plastic use and plastic waste helps.
The Streetwise Team