How to recycle your packaging

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As the Plastic Packaging Tax comes into force on April 1st, the demand for recycled plastic will sharply increase as manufacturers make their products more sustainable with a minimum of 30% recycled material.

The tax aims to foster growth in the UK recycling industry, attracting much needed investment in recycling technologies that will divert waste from landfill and convert it into reusable materials.

As the need for recycled plastic increases, there may be a tricky balance between processing capacity and material demand.  So now is a great time for all of us to up the ante on our commitment to recycle packaging…

Challenges of recycling packaging

The current challenges of recycling packaging

Often, what makes plastic packaging so appealing in terms of packaging performance is how lightweight it is. However, the flip side of this is that it impacts recyclability. It takes a huge effort to collect just one tonne of plastic packaging material for processing, making it commercially challenging.

In the UK we also have inconsistencies in kerbside collection.  There are over 350 local authorities managing collection and processing waste slightly differently. Plastic recyclers are also confronted with poor quality raw materials, as food residue renders it unrecyclable.

So, how should you recycle your packaging?

Recycle cardboard boxes

How to recycle cardboard boxes

Surprisingly, as many of us have switched to shopping online, there has been a shortage of carboard for recycling. This is because online shopping has redirected material from B2B recycling to kerbside collection.

Cardboard boxes are probably the most straightforward item to recycle. Typically, you can put them into kerbside collections for your local authority. There are a few considerations before you do this though…

First, does it have plastic tape or document wallets attached? You’ll need to remove them. Small amounts of plastic packing tape will go through processing but too much can affect the recyclability of a box. However, if paper tape has been used, you don’t need to remove it.

Next, collapse the box to save space – this saves room in your bin AND collection space on the recycling vehicle too. You should also check if your cardboard boxes are clean enough to be recycled! Had a pizza at the weekend? You can recycle the box, but you must first remove any leftovers and check for grease on the box. Greasy carboard cannot be recycled.  However, you could just recycle the bits without the grease – it takes a little effort to tear out the usable board but, it’s a great way to work off those pizza calories!

Recycle plastic air cushions

How to recycle plastic air cushions

Did you know that you can recycle the air cushions that protect your online shopping? First pop the air out of them, then take them along to your local supermarket where they can be recycled along with carrier bags.

It’s important that you check the airbag is not made of bio or compostable material, as these can contaminate recycling streams! (Click here to learn the difference between compostable and biodegradable materials).

Recycle mailing bags

How to recycle mailing bags

Mailing bags can be made from plastic or paper.

If you’ve got a plastic mailing bag, these can be recycled at large supermarkets with carrier bags but the same exclusions apply on material contamination – check that they are not made of bio or compostable material. Paper mailing bags can be recycled in household kerbside collections.

How to recycle bubble wrap

How to recycle bubble wrap

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to recycle bubble wrap in kerbside collections.  However, bubble wrap can be recycled at large supermarkets along with carrier bags BUT you must make the material as small as you possibly can by popping out the air (lots of fun – get popping!).

Recycle stretch wrap

How to recycle stretch wrap

Primarily used in the delivery of pallets in a B2B environment, there are commercial industrial waste collectors that collect and recycle stretch wrap.

If you do receive a parcel wrapped in stretch wrap at home, it is not kerbside recyclable. But your local supermarket may accept it at a film collection scheme, as it contains LDPE – the same material as most plastic carrier bags. However, some stretch wrap contains an additive called polyolefin, which can make it more challenging to recycle.

Recycle plastic strapping

How to recycle plastic strapping

Like stretch wrap, plastic strapping is mostly used in an industrial setting and recycled commercially. Still, there are occasions where it can be used for household deliveries, to aid the handling of larger boxes, for example.  Local authorities usually take responsibility for recycling it but won’t collect it from kerbside, so you will need to take it to your local recycling centre.


For more information about where to recycle packaging in the UK, you can visit Recycle Now. If you’re a business who wants to make your packaging more sustainable, ask Macfarlane Packaging how we can help.

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