Supermarket Recycling Centres: Convenient, Green and Simple?


It’s hard to find a supermarket without a corner of the car park dedicated to recycling bins. Compared to other retailers, supermarkets have been trailblazers in leading the revolution in helping us all dispose of our waste responsibly.

Supermarket recycle centres almost all offer cardboard, plastic and metal recycling, with a growing number now having the provision for a wide variety of other materials too, including batteries, light bulbs, clothing and textiles alongside charity collection bins too.

asda supercentre recycling centre

Why You Should Recycle At Supermarkets

The most common place for people to recycle is at home using their kerbside collections, but these are nowhere near good enough to offer comprehensive coverage across the UK. That’s a big clue as to why the supermarket recycling centres are so important to our efforts to recycle.

The Local Tip

The next place that is likely to spring to mind is your local tip, or to give them their ‘proper name’, Household Waste Recycling Centre. These are usually run by your local council or outsourced to a waste management company.

In most parts of the country, these are the most comprehensive places to get your rubbish recycled, offering everything from common items like the paper, card and plastics that kerbside collections accept, to hazardous waste like asbestos.

The Convenience Of Supermarkets

Most of us visit supermarkets every week for the simple reason that we need fresh food. While a lot more people get their groceries delivered that used to be the case, the majority still visit the stores regularly.

That means that forming habits to recycle at the same time as the weekly shop makes a lot of sense. It’s somewhere you’re going anyway, and you can offload a lot of recycling from the car boot in one trip, making space for the shopping on the way home.

What’s more, with the exception of the days leading into Christmas, you should always be able to drive straight in and park up at a supermarket – more than can be said for the local tip!

What You Can Recycle At Supermarkets

The range of waste services at supermarket locations is ever expanding. While we’d never expect to see asbestos drop off points in the local Tesco (for obvious safety reasons), some are almost always available.

Common services in these locations that are not usually collected at kerbside by local authorities tend to include batteries and clothing/textiles for recycling.

It’s worth splitting them into what’s usually found in the car park and what’s likely to be in the store itself.

Car Park Recycling Points

  • Paper & Card
  • Plastic Bottles
  • Glass Bottles & Jars (often split into clear, brown and green)
  • Clothing (often raising money for charity)
  • Shoes

In Store Recycling Points

  • Batteries
  • Light Bulbs
  • Soft Plastics (carrier bags, bread bags, cling film)

Why Some Bins Are In Store Instead Of Outside

We’ve tried to get a definitive reason for why this split happens, but it would appear that there isn’t one! The best reason comes down to convenience for customers, which is something that makes a lot of sense.

Soft Plastics

Soft plastics would be the clear example here because it’s a recent hot topic – not least because of the switch to bags for life over single use plastic. For that reason, you’ll often see the recycle bins for old bags at the entrance to stores and/or near checkouts.

Don’t forget, if you have bags for life, they’ll usually be swapped for new ones for free at the checkout and the member of staff will keep the old worn or damaged one to make sure it’s recycled. If you put those in the bins, you’ll have to buy a new one!

Batteries

You will often find the battery recycle points inside the store itself, rather than out in the car park. The reason here is safety. Batteries can be considered hazardous when disposed of, so some stores prefer to keep them inside the store where staff can see anyone interfering with them.

What’s more, it keeps them away from the elements – rain and varying temperatures aren’t the best environment for batteries, even once they’re spent.

While we’re on the subject, we should add that you should never put batteries in the general waste bin at home due to the fire risk if they get crushed on the dust cart.

The Problem With Recycling In The UK

There’s an argument to say that we shouldn’t need to have supermarket car parks used for recycling, and that their very existence demonstrates that we’re not doing well enough already.

Council Services Still Aren’t Good Enough

Just take a look at your road on days when the bin lorries are due and the bins are line up on the street for collection. You’ll always see the same houses overfilling their bins, and perhaps even leaving an additional pile next to the wheelie bin too.

While we should all know by now that your bin may not get emptied unless the lid fully closes, that doesn’t seem to put people off trying it on.

The problem for bin men is that they are, on the whole, helpful souls that are just trying to do their job and be helpful for their community.

Overfilled bins put them in a difficult position, because while they’re told they shouldn’t be emptying those bins, they also know that their managers will often cave in to complaints and end up sending the crew back out to empty the bin after all.

More often than not, on the return trip the bin will still be just as full as it was to start with, so it’s easy to see why it’s just easier to turn a blind eye in the first place, but that doesn’t make it right.

When we’re specifically talking about recycling bins, there’s an even bigger motivation to take all the waste – if the crew leave it behind, it’s likely that at least some of it will end up getting chucking in the general waste bin instead.

That is probably a good argument for providing bigger bins on request, or multiple bins – especially for larger households. A lot of councils do offer this, however the requirements, checks and red tape involved often puts residents off.

Regional Recycling Collections

In fact, some council areas are much better than others at encouraging recycling. For example, there’s a big split when it comes to green waste services – that’s grass from mowing the lawn along with clippings from shrubs and hedges.

Some councils offer these collections for free, others offer a paid (but in some cases claim it’s subsidised) service, and the remaining few have no provision at all.

While the green waste example is great for showing the discrepancy in services across the country, it’s less relatable to supermarket recycling services – to my knowledge I’ve never visited a supermarket where I can drop off my grass cuttings!

Should Supermarkets Need To Offer Recycling?

As we’ve made the point that council run collections could be a lot better, if that was the case then would supermarkets need to offer the bins in the corner of the car park at all? Perhaps not, but it’s also not as clear cut as to suggest that supermarkets shouldn’t play their part.

Let’s face it, a huge proportion of the waste that we generate is created as packaging from food and drink. Think about what goes into your general waste bin for each collection, and do the same exercise for plastics, paper and card and metal like tin cans.

I bet the overwhelming majority of those wheelie bins comes from food packaging, so while it’s true that the food industry has done a lot to make packaging more recyclable (and also made from recycled materials), it’s also true that they are a huge contributor to the waste that ends up in the bin.

Are Supermarkets Better Placed To Offer Recycling?

In some ways, there are potential advantages to supermarket based recycling. The biggest element comes down to the transport of the waste materials. As we mentioned earlier, if you’re going tot he supermarket anyway, it makes a lot of sense to drop of your recycling in the skips at the same time.

The same goes in the next stage of the journey too – supermarkets act as a local hub for emptying large bins and skips from one location. That’s a lot more efficient than driving up and down every street in cities, towns and villages across the country in a huge dust cart as the councils need to do.

This efficiency only works because of the nature of the end user (you, I and the rest of the general public) doubling up our shopping trip with dropping off the rubbish at the same time. If we all made a separate trip for the weekly grocery shop then it would actually result in more miles driven.

Of course, we are assuming here everyone takes the car to the supermarket. If you usually walk and regularly drop off your rubbish that’s better still.

In the case of soft plastics, there’s starting to be even more innovative recycling by the big supermarkets to reduce environmental impact. Because the usual recycling companies have been slow to address this type of plastic (they have much more widely available coverage for group 1 and 2 plastics and you can read about that here), the supermarkets have had to address this waste themselves.

As a result, when their wagons deliver stock to stores, they’re able to take the contents of their in-store soft plastic bins (to remind you this means carrier bags, bread bags, cling film etc.) away in the space in the wagon the delivery previously occupied and drop it off before they collect their next delivery.

As the lorries have to return to base regularly anyway, this end up being even more efficient than the bin lorries emptying the skips in the car parks.

The Benefits Are Clear

To pull all of this together, the result of supermarkets offering recycling services at their stores, whether in the outdoor car park areas or dedicated bins in the store itself provide several benefits.

Convenient Recycling For Shoppers

Shoppers (or people passing directly by) have a quick and easy way to dispose of recyclable material. Whether the motivation is a full wheelie bin at home until the next collection day, or a lack of a kerbside service for that type of waste, supermarkets offer quick and simple solutions.

More Environmentally Friendly Logistics

As detailed above, the emptying of bins in supermarkets is possible with large vehicles travelling much shorter distances when the local recycling centres act as hubs compared to kerbside collections, meaning fewer emissions from vehicles.

Greater Range Of Local Recycling

We need to recycle more – almost everyone agrees. Using local centres for less commonly disposed items such as batteries and light bulbs mean that many more types of waste can be processed more safely and responsibly without a significant inconvenience to members of the public.

Charities Can Benefit

Charity bins can be installed alongside recycling bins, allowing collections to be made for those less fortunate. Some items are able to be reused, while others can be processed in a way that raises money for charities or benefits them in other ways. This is clearly an option allowing good to be done with waste that would otherwise be thrown out and potentially end up in landfill.

Supermarket Recycling And Supporting Communities

Supermarkets come in for a lot of flack from time to time. That is often down to issues like staff wages, prices paid to farmers, alleged profiteering or other sensitive subjects.

What has been a big change over the last couple of decades is the support supermarkets give to the communities they serve. That might include donations to kids sports teams, providing food banks with supplies or sponsoring local schools.

In this case, the allocation of zones in their car park for the permanent location of recycling services has made us all able to do our bit to reduce what goes to landfill, and at the same to allow more of our waste to be re-used and recycled.

Liam Gifford

I'm Liam. I spent twenty four years on the bins in South Yorkshire and now spend my time on recycling projects. I created this site to use my knowledge of how the rounds work, and what people need to know about getting their wheelie bins emptied every week.

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