Products That Pretend to be Recyclable
As a nation, we’re getting better at recycling. Although official monitoring of household recycling didn’t begin until 2010, estimations say that in 2001 we recycled around 10% of our household waste. Fast forward 16 years and we’re up to around 44% of all household waste being recycled.
Believe it or not, as a nation we could up the amount we recycle by a huge percentage if we paid more attention to what cannot be recycled. When recyclable products are collected it is important they are not contaminated with products or waste that are not suitable for the recycling processes. If they are, machinery can be damaged or whole batches of otherwise recyclable waste is rendered useless.
Let’s look at a few products that you might think are recyclable but actually are not:
It’s plastic so it’s recyclable, right? Wrong! Cling type wraps have chemicals and resins added at the point of manufacture to give it that super flexible, stretchable and ‘clingy’ quality. Because of how the wrap is made, it’s extremely difficult to remove these ingredients.
To make matters worse, cling wraps have often been used to wrap or store food, so they can end up in recycle bins with food produce still on them. This is a major contaminant for the recyclable products that are with it in the bin, sometimes rendering them non-recyclable.
When cling film is flat it is generally quite strong – although it will normally rip or puncture fairly easily. When these types of film get wrapped up they become very strong – so much so that they can become wrapped and entwined around the machinery that sorts and processes recycling. Down time for these machines is expensive – so think twice before cling film heads into your recycle bin!
Aluminium foil is recyclable and provides a good alternative to cling film – but if you’re going to use it, make sure it’s clean before it goes into the recycle bin! Ideally, using reusable plastic containers can save huge amounts of waste.
Cardboard pizza boxes – surely there’s nothing more recyclable on the planet? Wrong again! If you’re eating lots of pizza because the box can go straight into the recycle bin you’re going to need to rethink your planet saving plans! Pizza boxes are almost always contaminated with left-over food – most commonly the oil that separates and runs when cheese and meat toppings are cooked.
During the pulping process, card and paper products cannot be economically separated from the oils that now saturate the fibres. So, you see those recycle logos that are on the box? In theory it’s true – but if a box has fulfilled its pizza transportation use, then it’s destined for the landfill.
If takeaway pizza is on the menu then there isn’t an alternative to the box it will arrive in. However, lots of supermarket pizza packaging is recyclable – and there are lots of eat-in pizza restaurants with excellent recycling policies. Perhaps that planet and your waistline would thank you for an alternative to take away pizza!
Perfume and cosmetics packages
When it comes to luxury packaging, there are few items that impress more than high-end cosmetics and perfume – in some cases, decadent packaging can account for 10% of the product price. Look closely at the materials involved and you’ll realise that there’s a lot more there than just coated card.
Metallic foils are often used to make names and logos stand-out, as are plastics and, in some cases, fabrics line the interior. All this looks very nice on the shelf, but offers nothing to the function of the product or the environment.
Separating two different packaging products reduces the chance that a product will be recycled enormously – so when 3-4 are thrown into the mix, virtually no recycling plant in the country will attempt the costly process.
If being eco-friendly is a drive for you then voting with how you spend your money is a good way to voice your disapproval for over-the-top packaging that will end up in the landfill. That said, green doesn’t have to be dull, Curtis Packaging design and create beautiful packages for a host of luxury items – but they adhere to strict environmental standards.
Take away coffee cups
If people are asked to identify the material used to make a one-use coffee cup the answer is almost always ‘card’. Card – dense, thick paper is extremely versatile – but waterproof it is not. Therefore, single use coffee cups have to be coated in a very thin layer of plastic to make sure they don’t leak your daily latte onto your clothes.
This plastic coating makes recycling the cardboard it coats really tricky – so, millions of single use coffee cups go into landfill every day. Now, the answer to whether or not the cup is recyclable is a tough one – it depends on a lot of who is doing the actual recycling.
It is possible to separate the paper product from the plastic coating – it’s just very difficult. When mills have more than their fair share of non-tricky items to recycle, many of them refuse or limit the numbers of coffee cups.
Check with your local council about whether they can recycle cups – if they can’t, there are some good re-usable cups on the market! What’s more, some coffee retailers will give you a small discount if you take your own cup – For example, Starbucks offer 25p off any drink if you provide the cup.
Don’t get caught out!
The most commonly used recycling symbol is the ‘mobius loop’ – three curved arrows forming a triangle. This symbol is not regulated by any official body, so, strictly speaking – it doesn’t mean packaging is recyclable just because it’s on there.
What the mobius loop most often means is that the product can be recycles somewhere – but this doesn’t mean everywhere – so check with your local recycling facility if you’re not sure. Recycling centres would work much more efficiently if they didn’t have to deal with landfill items people assume are recyclable – so if you’re in any doubt, they’re usually happy to help!