National agreement from the recycling industry on what can and cannot be collected for recycling from householders and how those materials should be presented for collection.

  • What items can and cannot be collected for recycling
  • Contaminants that are often included
  • How the materials should be presented e.g. lids on/off
  • Reasons why certain items cannot be accepted or should be presented in a certain way.


Following extensive consultation with the recycling industry a list of items that can and cannot be recycled, along with how they should be presented by householders has been compiled by WRAP.

This document outlines how and why the recycling guidelines have been developed, including a summary of results from consumer testing.

The consumer testing revealed a low level of awareness amongst consumers of many items that are currently not recyclable, as well as highlighting a number of items which are often not recycled owing to a lack of knowledge or confusion. It also highlighted how detailed and complicated recycling can be to householders.

In order to increase capture and reduce contamination, simple messages via targeted and strategic communications are necessary. There are many potential benefits of the guidelines to all in the supply chain, all of whom have a role to play in taking the guidelines forward.


For a number of years the WRAP Recycling Tracker survey has identified confusion amongst householders on what can/can’t be recycled.

The 2021 survey highlights that:

  • Nearly 2 in 5 people (38%) express uncertainty about how to correctly dispose of one or more items. 
  • Just over half (55%) of UK households dispose of one or more items in the residual bin that are collected for recycling in their area.
  • The majority (85%) of UK households add one or more items to their recycling collection that are not accepted locally.
  • Almost one in seven households (15%) do not put any items in the recycling that are not accepted.

The survey concludes that lack of knowledge is a key barrier to recycling. Other barriers include a lack of bin capacity and inertia.

An industry framework for greater consistency in household recycling in England was published in September 2016. It includes a joint vision that “by 2025 packaging is designed to be recyclable (where practical and environmentally beneficial) and labelled clearly to indicate whether it can be recycled or not. Every household in England can recycle a common set of materials and food waste collected in one of three ways.” The materials are paper, card, plastic bottles, plastic pots, tubs and trays, glass and metal packaging, cartons and food waste.

Currently across the nation, as well as there being inconsistency in the materials collected for recycling e.g. plastic packaging, there is inconsistency in the specifics of those materials i.e. what types of plastic packaging. The guidelines have been developed to help bring about consistency and reduce householder confusion in recycling.


Comments from LARAC, RECOUP & The Resource Association

Lee Marshall from LARAC: "LARAC has been pleased to be involved in the process of developing the guidelines along with other parts of the industry. The fact that local authorities and reprocessors were able to work constructively to produce these guidelines shows the way forward for increasing recycling levels in the UK. Without a willingness to engage local authorities this couldn’t have happened and we now encourage local authorities to use these guidelines to enhance their communications and give the public the consistent messages they say they want."

Stuart Foster from RECOUP: “The recycling guidelines project led by WRAP is an ideal opportunity for local authorities to align consumer messages around plastic collections. We urge all local authorities to review their existing messaging and adopt the information within the guidance document wherever possible. At RECOUP we believe this represents a low cost quick win opportunity to help remove confusion around household plastics recycling, and underpins the ambitions and benefits of the wider consistency programme.”

Ray Georgeson from The Resource Association: “We were pleased to be able to work with WRAP on this important project and warmly welcome the publication of the Guidelines. They are a necessary next step in the journey towards greater consistency in household recycling collections and in the essential task of improving the quality of recyclate by reducing contamination. I commend them to local authorities and industry alike and I hope they are rapidly adopted in the coming months.”

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  • Recycling guidelines: Version 2.1 - March 2017 Amended October 2021

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