Single-use plastic is one of the biggest threats to our planet. If we carry on producing plastic at this rate, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. The United Nations have reported that only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. This is a devastating figure. In order to enact change, we must recycle responsibly and understand which packaging belongs in which bin.
When you’re deciding how to package your products or what to do with waste packaging, what can be recycled is the key to making green decisions for your business or in your personal life.
The 7 Plastic Codes
Every plastic bottle and container will have a logo on which highlights the type of plastic it is made from, making it easier to sort and recycle. Some types of plastic are unable to be recycled, ending up in landfill sites indefinitely. By using the code system, these items can be separated.
1. PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Uses: Water bottles, mouthwash bottles, peanut butter containers, fruit punnets.
Recycling: These are collected from households by the local council.
Tackling Plastic: Switch to reusable bottles and buy fruit from local farmers markets.
2. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
Uses: Milk bottles, shampoo bottles, margarine tubs, toys, plastic bags.
Recycling: The most widely recycled type of plastic and known as the safest form. Can be recycled into plastic milk bottles.
Tackling Plastic: Replace your plastic bags with a reusable carrier.
3. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Uses: Cleaning bottles, clear food packaging, window frames, computer cables.
Recycling: Dubbed the ‘poison plastic’; rarely recycled but the use of PVC is in decline.
Tackling Plastic: Use Tupperware instead of cling film to keep food fresh.
4. LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
Uses: Yokes which hold 4 & 6 pack beers together, bread packaging, plastic bags.
Recycling: Some plastic bags recycled, local councils may accept LDPE packaging.
Tackling Plastic: Buy bread from a local bakery or make your own at home.
5. PP (Polypropylene)
Uses: Plastic bottle tops, straws, nappies, crisp bags, yoghurt pots.
Recycling: Some councils will collect. Recycled to make bins.
Tackling Plastic: Paper or reusable metal straws are widely available. You can send your bottle tops to Lush via their recycling scheme, the free-post address is: FREE-POST, LUSH GREENHUB.
6. PS (Polystyrene)
Uses: Take-out food containers, egg cartons, protective peanuts for packages.
Recycling: Not widely recycled, but check your local council.
Tackling Plastic: Buy your eggs from a local farmer to avoid polystyrene.
Uses: Sunglasses, DVDs, baby bottles, water cooler bottles.
Recycling: Some councils take them. Recycled into bespoke products.
Tackling Plastic: Purchase your movies digitally to avoid using plastic.
Other U.K. Recycling Symbols
There are many different recycling symbols used in the U.K. It is very common for people to confuse the different symbols with each other. Here are the most widely used symbols and a clear definition.
The Mobius Loop
The Mobius Loop means that the packaging is recyclable. Many people believe this symbol means the packaging can go straight into the recycling. However, this is only the first step.
The Green Dot
This symbol, often confused with the Mobius loop, does NOT mean that the packaging is recyclable. It actually means that the producer of the product has contributed to recycling in some way. Whether this was a big or small contribution is not indicated.
This item is widely recycled throughout the U.K. This usually means it can go straight into your recycling bin and collected by the local council. Check the description to see whether you need to remove the sleeve or lid, for example.
If a product has this symbol, it means that your local authority may recycle it, but you might need to check. Log on to your local council’s website and check which items they recycle.
Not Yet Recycled
This symbol means that it is only recycled by 20% of councils. Although the label suggests otherwise, it is worth checking with your local council to see if they provide facilities to recycle any product with this symbol.
This symbol indicates that the aluminium product can be recycled using recycling bins at home and collected by the local council. Check your deodorant cans and cleaning product bottles before you throw them into general waste.
Recycle with Bags
Some items can be recycled alongside plastic carrier bags and handed into your local supermarket for collection. It takes a little more effort than it being collected, but it’s worth it for the environment.
The Journey of a Plastic Bottle
As we saw on BBC’s eye-opening Blue Planet II series, single-use plastic is being washed into the oceans and ending up in the stomachs of animals. In order to reduce this, we must stop throwing plastic bottles into general waste, and recycle them responsibly. Below is a flowchart showing the journey of a plastic bottle, from the bin to being reincarnated into something new.
The first step is actually choosing the right bin for your item. Putting the bottle into the wrong bin means extra time at the recycling plant, or it may even slip through and end up on a landfill site where it will stay for years.
Your local council will then collect the items and take them to the sorting centre. Once sorted, they are crushed and turned into ‘bales’. These bales can be shredded and are turned into flakes of plastic.
The flakes are easy to wash and clean and are sorted again depending on whether they float or sink. Giant industrial dryers are used to dry off the flakes, so they can be packaged up for recycling or for manufacturers. These flakes can be turned into hundreds of different items, including toys, duvets, or perhaps even another bottle.
How Much is Recycled in the U.K.?
With the devastating consequences of single-use plastic becoming more and more evident, it is important that we all make the changes necessary to reduce our impact on the environment. The U.K. has a long way to go until we are officially classified as a zero waste country.
In the U.K. 1,044,363 tonnes of plastic packaging is declared as recycled. The overall amount of plastic packaging placed on the market is 2,260,000 tonnes, making our recycling rate 46.2% (Recoup, 2018).
Sweden recycles most of their household waste, with reports that they have a recycling rate of 99%, with only 1% ending up in landfill. This is due to extensive recycling schemes, money incentives for dropping off the packaging and burning their waste for energy. Their system seems to work well, and they are well on their way to becoming a zero waste country.
The U.K. has a long way to go until it is zero waste, but by making small changes every day, you can help to make an impact.
Some tips to reduce your plastic waste:
- Buy a reusable water bottle and take it everywhere. There are more and more Refill stations popping up- check your local area here.
- Do your weekly fruit and veg shop at a local farmers market. You should also take a reusable bag everywhere with you to carry your shopping in.
- Refuse plastic straws and instead carry a metal one. Speak to your local restaurant owners and help convince them to make the switch to paper, or remove them entirely.
At Boxtopia, we aim to ensure that our products are as environmentally friendly as possible. Our cardboard boxes and tissue paper are great as they are both widely recycled. Our stretch wrap and bubble wrap can be recycled at recycling points around the country. Our void fill can be harder to recycle but you can check with your local council to find a recycling point.