Can you recycle packaging materials?

One of the ways of how to be a more eco-friendly business is by increasing the life-cycle of packaging materials used in the operation. In this article, we’ll go deeper. Not only this is a guide on how to recycle your product packaging but also on how to differentiate which packaging material is recyclable and what are the recyclable packaging alternatives.

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The most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce your waste, but we realise that this is not realistic or possible for most people. So, to minimise your impact on the environment, you should at least recycle everything you possibly can and opt for recyclable or recycled packaging in your business. 

It can be confusing to figure out which materials are recyclable, let alone where and how you can recycle them. We’ve got you covered — in this article, we’ll explain all this and more.

What are the benefits of recycling packaging materials? 

Recycling packaging materials extends their life cycle by preventing them from becoming waste after a single-use. This reduces the need to produce new materials by extracting virgin resources, usually in processes that generate large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. In this way, the emissions which would have been incurred by the production of plastic and paper are saved. Recycling 1kg of plastic saves 1.5kg of CO2, while recycling 1kg of paper saves 900g of CO2. Creating bags from recycled polyethylene generates just a third of the sulphur dioxide and half of the nitrous oxide that would be emitted if they were produced from scratch.

Which packaging materials can be recycled?

  • Corrugated cardboard – corrugated cardboard can be recycled up to 7 times! Recycle it in your bins at home or at your workplace. 
  • Polyethylene (PET, LDPE and HDPE) – polyethylene is the most common plastic in the world and is frequently used in packaging. This includes air pillows, which are sometimes included in packaging to protect a product and are usually made from PET, and stretch wrap, which is made from LDPE. It can be recycled in your bins at home or at your workplace. 
  • Polypropylene – polypropylene is the second most common plastic in the world. It’s fully recyclable, though you should check that it is recycled in your area with your local authority.
  • Polystyrene – polystyrene, which is the same as Styrofoam, is used in takeaway boxes and packaging balls. Only a few local councils in the UK recycle polystyrene. Don’t worry if you’re not in one of these few lucky areas — Molygran will recycle your used polystyrene for free. 
  • Bubble Wrap – bubble wrap can be recycled at supermarket collection points. Alternatively, you can look into compostable and biodegradable substitutes.

Which packaging materials can’t be recycled, and what alternatives are available?

It’s worth noting that food-soiled packaging is not recyclable. If you can’t rinse the food out fully, don’t bother putting it in with your recycling. 

Image credit: Unsplash

Which is the most eco-friendly packaging material available? 

All of the recyclable packaging materials listed above have a limited impact on the environment, as long as they are recycled. However, buying recycled paper packaging where possible is the most eco-friendly option. This is because it saves greenhouse gas emissions that would be generated by the production of new paper and conserves virgin resources. 

You can buy recycled paper packaging at these retailers: 

Where and how can I recycle packaging materials?

Some of the materials listed above, like cardboard and polyethylene, don’t need to be separated from your other recycling waste and can be recycled as normal from home or your workplace. Others, like Bubble Wrap, need to be taken to collection points. If you can’t recycle a particular material from home, its recycling process is probably more difficult and may even require specialist equipment. Where possible, you should switch to widely and easily recyclable materials. Many plastic products are stamped with handy symbols which can tell you how easily recyclable they are. If you’re unsure of whether a particular material is recyclable, you can check if it is recycled by your local authority here

Image credit: Unsplash

Though recycling is pretty simple, you should be aware of some tricks which will make the lives of those who work at your local recycling center easier: 

  • Empty, rinse and squash plastic containers and bottles
  • Replace the lids on plastic bottles after you’ve squashed them 
  • Remove any film from plastic containers as this is not recyclable
  • Flatten cardboard boxes
  • Try to remove as much sellotape as possible from recyclable packaging
  • Pop your Bubble Wrap before recycling it 

Opt for recyclable, or even better, recycled packaging to reduce your carbon footprint. Make sure that you recycle your packaging materials wherever possible and try not to send non-recyclable materials along with them. If you’re still confused, don’t worry — you can always contact your local authority or check whether a particular material is recyclable in your area online. Alternatively, consider using a waste management company like Paper Round, Changeworks or First Mile to help you measure, manage and reduce your waste. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about it if you still get it wrong sometimes. By reading this article and making an effort to reduce your impact on the environment, you’re already taking a step in the right direction!

Sophie Comninos
Author: Sophie Comninos

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