Recycling Myths, Busted

Jessica Bellehewe, Sustainability Manager at London Met, clears up some common misconceptions when it comes to our recycling habits.

Date: 22 October 2023

It’s no secret that we need to be recycling more. We’re always encouraged to recycle as much as possible, but what we might not consider is that throwing things into the wrong bin can cause contamination, undoing all of our good intentions.

To bring these issues forward following National Recycling Week, we sat down with Jessica Bellehewe, Sustainability Manager at London Met, to help us with some myth busting.

To kick things off, Jessica – tell us about your background in sustainability and what your priorities are for London Met in the coming months

I started off my career at a waste recycling company, which involved dealing with all sorts of waste within shopping centres and hospitals mostly. Which as you can imagine, is a lot! And not unlike the sort of space we operate in here at London Met. My experience covers managing environmental systems, energy systems, reducing energy consumption and cO2 emissions, and then some fun initiatives focusing on rewilding and green events. I’ve been consulting for a few years, which has meant I’ve been focused on supporting organisations with their environmental impact management and improving ESG (Environmental, social and corporate governance) credentials.

My target for London met is to increase our levels of recycling to 75%. With welcome weeks and onsite catering of takeaway dishes, it’s been challenging to increase the volume of materials we’re recycling.

Myth: Recycling schemes are expensive for organisations

Not true. There are higher charges for disposing landfill due to the taxes associated with the process. This is to encourage the use of recycling, which is more cost-effective for organisations. Not only does it benefit our overall sustainability drive, but it also benefits the bottom line. The money saved on waste disposal can then be invested elsewhere – but it’s also just doing the right thing as well. A win-win, in other words. It’s also cheaper and more sustainable to recycle and re-use materials across campus than sourcing raw materials to make products with.

Myth: Mixing in food or other items in the recycling isn’t a big deal

It is. Throwing away food into a recycling bin, for example, can mean that otherwise recyclable waste is now completely contaminated. Even if the food doesn’t touch all the recyclable items in the bin, this wouldn’t be fit for processing. That means, in turn, that the whole bin needs to be treated as general waste, and the potential for materials to be used again has then been lost. Most people aren’t aware that a small action like this can have big consequences – and such negative ones, too.

Myth: How you approach recycling at home has nothing to do with your place of work or study

There are different rules for the different areas we operate in – however, the habits you form at home can influence your behaviour in a public setting. Don’t underestimate how your actions can feed into the bigger picture. If we train ourselves at home to approach recycling in the right way, we’re more likely to take these good practices into the wider world, which can make a bigger difference than you might think.

Myth: More is more – most things can be recycled nowadays

Not true, sadly. Many people can fall into the trap of ‘wish-cycling’ – a positive outlook towards all materials being fit for the recycling bin.  But assuming things can be recycled without properly checking the labels, and then throwing them in the recycling bin can cause long term damage to the machines that process plastics, cardboard and recycling material. I consistently emphasise that taking a few seconds to inspect packaging for recyclability is crucial. It’s unfortunate when non-recyclable items mistakenly end up in the wrong bin, leading to materials melting or becoming stuck in the machinery of waste processing centres. Such incidents can result in the entire processing plant shutting down and causing operational delays.

Myth: All plastic can be recycled together, it doesn’t matter what sort it is

False. The different labelling corresponds to the type of plastic that is used, and then the way in which it needs to be recycled. Really soft plastics like some drinks bottles have to be handled separately to hard plastics such as hangars. This is why the usual plastic bags can’t be recycled at home usually, and supermarkets offer a collection point to accept soft plastics. Always search online if unsure of which category the plastic falls into.