Recycling 101: How to recycle household items, electronics, beauty waste, fashion and tech

packing cardboard with sign to recycle instead of throwing in garbage
Recycling 101: How to recycle household itemsManivannan Thirugnanasambandam - Getty Images

Here at Country Living, we know the critical importance of recycling. But, beyond what the council can pick up during local kerbside collections, it can be confusing to know how to recycle items like clothing, furniture, electronics and cosmetics. To help, we’ve put together a recycling overview.

Note: When it comes to making more sustainable choices, reduction should always come before recycling. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It's important to reduce the amount we consume, and consider, when purchasing something new, if/why we need it, where it comes from and how it's made. As consumers, we must make more mindful decisions when it comes to what we buy.

Firstly, here's a quick waste breakdown...

FashionAccording to WRAP, around £140 million worth (roughly 350,000 tonnes) of used clothing ends up in UK landfills every year. Also, a staggering £30 billion worth of unused clothing is sitting in our wardrobes nationwide as we speak, going unworn.

Beauty – Beauty waste accounts for more than 120 billion units of packaging, according to Zero Waste Week.

Tech – In tech, the Royal Society of Chemistry says there are 40 million unused gadgets in our homes, with 45% of us hoarding up to five unused devices.

Furniture – 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded each year in the UK, with the majority of this furniture being sent directly to landfill, as per a report from The North London Waste Authority.

The lesson for consumers?

Only buy what you genuinely need and consider the sustainability credentials of that item and the company it's being purchased from.

How to recycle household items

With much disparity in the rules over what you can and can’t recycle, it’s easy to feel lost amongst the wealth of information out there – but there are some services nationwide you can utilise right now. For example, textile recycling bank, Recycle Now, will take your unwanted clothing (in any condition) and repurpose it. Terracycle, on the other hand, will accept any of your used personal care and beauty items.

With a few simple swaps, a little advanced planning and some essential recycling know-how up your sleeve, you can dispose of items responsibly.

From unwanted clothing and beauty items to electronics and furniture, here’s our guide to recycling.

CLOTHING

Items that aren’t suitable to be passed onto someone else can be recycled and made into new items, such as padding for chairs and car seats, cleaning cloths and industrial blankets. Here are some places in the UK that will recycle clothing items that can’t be sold or donated.

Textile recycling banks

Drop off your unwanted items at recycling points with clothing and textile banks in supermarkets and local car parks. Visit Recycle Now or Recycle More to find one near you.

Local councils

Many local councils offer free clothes and textiles collections, so it’s always worth checking on local council websites.

Animal shelters

Animal shelters often use old clothes, towels and other old textiles for the animals they have in their care. They use them to clean, make beds and blankets, and help the shelter feel more like home for the animals. Here are some more tips on what you can donate to an animal shelter.

Retailers who recycle clothes

H&M – Clothing retailer H&M has joined the zero waste mission. According to their website, you can donate textiles from any brand, in any condition and they'll take care of the rest. Depending on what condition your clothes are in, they'll become cleaning cloths or insulation in their next life. (H&M offers a £5 voucher at checkout for purchases over £25 if you use their donation service.)

Levi's – If you're tired of your old jeans, bring them into a Levi’s store or Outlet where they can be exchanged for up to 20% off a brand new pair to be purchased on the same day. Stores have a recycling box where you can drop off any denim, from any brand. It could be used, for example, to insulate libraries, hospitals and schools or to fix other Levi's.

John Lewis – FashionCycle is a sustainability initiative exclusively for My John Lewis customers across the UK. If you take five items of pre-loved clothing to be resold or recycled into a John Lewis store, they will give you £5 off your fashion or homeware purchase on the same day when you spend £20 or more. Most clothing items are accepted including shirts, t-shirts, jumpers, dresses and some childrenswear.

Shoes – If you have old shoes, Schuh can take them back for recycling, and offer a voucher in return. Nike recycle old trainers too, turning them into new performance kits and playgrounds. Apply for a bag online then drop them in store or at DPD points. TK Maxx, M&S, H&M, Primark and Monki stores all take donations.

Compost

According to Recyclebank, you can compost particular clothing items you can't donate. However, this is exclusive to cotton and does not apply to synthetic fabrics or cotton with any adornments on it. When you compost, you are turning these fabrics back into soil that can grow vegetables, fruits and other plants.

BEAUTY

According to Zero Waste Week, more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced globally every year by the cosmetics industry, contributing to the loss of 18 million acres of forest annually.

Terracycle

You can drop off your used personal care and beauty product packaging at public drop-off locations across the UK – find your local one here. (All brands are accepted.) After the waste is recycled into a raw material, it is sold to manufacturing companies who produce the end product and complete the journey of recycling.

These end products may include outdoor furniture and decking, plastic shipping pallets, watering cans, storage containers and bins, tubes for construction applications, flooring tiles, playground surface covers and athletic fields, and much more.

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Cloud Nine

Whatever the brand, whatever the condition, they will recycle your old straighteners, wands, tongs or hairdryers for free.

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Maybelline

Bring finished-with products to their in-store recycling stations in one of the 1,000 Tesco, Superdrug, Boots or Sainsbury's stores participating in the scheme.

FIND NEAREST DROP-OFF

Kiehls

Kiehl's have relaunched their Recycle & Be Rewarded scheme in association with Terracycle, which encourages customers to bring their Kiehl's empties to their local shop and pop them in the new recycling stations. You can choose which charity you want to support with your recycling, with £1 for every kilo of packaging being donated. They accept all Kiehl’s product packaging and all brands of body and skincare plastic packaging (body lotions, face creams, serums, sun creams, cleansers and face mask treatments).

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Boots

This scheme is aimed at hard-to-recycle beauty, healthcare and wellness products that cannot be put in the council home recycling. Usually this is because they are: too small (travel minis, samples, mascaras, etc), made of composite materials (make-up palettes, compacts, lipsticks, etc), made from non-recyclable materials (toothpaste tubes, lotion pumps, etc).

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HOME

Council special collections

Arrange a special collection for large waste items. Most councils will collect things like old sofas, fridges or washing machines for a fee.

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London Recyclables

Furniture that cannot be reused can often be recycled, especially items made from wood or metal. Most furniture can be recycled at your local recycling centre – use the recycling locator tool to find your nearest centre if you live in London. If you can’t get to your local centre, your council might be able to collect your furniture from your home.

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ELECTRICALS

Clear It Waste

If your phone is cracked, your laptop has given up the ghost or your Xbox is beyond repair, you can earn some money from your old electronics. In the right hands, used gadgets can often be refurbished or broken down into small components. These can be sold individually and reused in other electronic items or recycled into a brand-new component. If your old electronic device is not worth refurbishing, there are some companies that will help you dispose of them safely.

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Recycle Now

Find out where to recycle your unwanted electronics – including kettles, cameras, battery-operated toys, toasters, power drills and mobile phones.

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Batteries

Find your nearest battery recycling point here. When batteries end up in landfill, they leak toxic chemicals into the environment.

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