Should You Switch to Recyclable Packaging Materials?
Should you use recyclable packaging materials? Find out with Packaging Supplies, the plastic-free packaging experts.
Packaging is essential, but in the current climate, finding an effective and sustainable packaging solution isn’t a straightforward task. Could recyclable packaging be the answer the world is looking for? There are some important questions to ask before we know for certain, so read on to find out if recyclable packaging is worth it.
Is Recycling Sustainable?
In 2003, the government passed the Household Recycling Act. Two decades later, Brits recycle nearly half of all household waste, including various paper, plastic, cardboard and metal products, making the legislation a great success, increasing recycling rates and reducing landfill waste.
Based on this, you might assume that recycling is a viable long-term solution to our global waste problem, but some contest that recycling isn’t sustainable at all. Inefficiencies in the current recycling process, the need for more natural resources to create recyclable products and a lack of recycling provision in some areas makes recycling a hotly debated issue.
So, should consumers bother recycling at all? Let’s look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of recycling.
What Are the Benefits of Recycling?
Recycling aims to maximise the potential of materials that have already been produced. In essence, recycling gives otherwise redundant materials another chance. The packaging sector is a major beneficiary of recycling, and much of the packaging you come into contact with is made from partly or wholly recycled materials.
Here’s are some notable benefits of using recyclable packaging:
Conserves Planetary Resources
The recycling process requires energy, but it’s far less environmentally harmful to recycle than to produce packaging from raw materials. Recycling means fewer trees need to be cut down, fewer natural habitats are disturbed, and less pollution is created as a result.
Reduces Landfill Waste
Households create a staggering amount of waste. At these sites, trash is buried, burned or left to decompose, polluting the environment in the process. Recycling reduces the amount of landfill waste by extending the lifespan of materials and repurposing things that would otherwise be thrown away.
It’s Relatively Easy to Do
Most people are aware of the importance of recycling. With regular recycling collections and established waste streams for household waste, consumers are well-rehearsed in recycling things like cardboard, metals and plastics, making it a viable option.
Consumers Prefer Sustainability
Given a choice, most consumers prefer sustainable packaging in one form or another. You can use recyclable packaging as a tool to promote your eco-conscious business, signalling to potential customers that your business cares about the environment.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Recycling?
With so many benefits of recyclable packaging to consider, it’s important to be critical when selecting the most appropriate packaging for your products. After all, the packaging you choose needs to look presentable, provide adequate protection and — if taking care of the planet is one of your priorities — not come at the expense of the environment.
Not Everyone Recycles
Recycling needs everyone to participate to make it worthwhile. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether or not something can be recycled, causing consumers to throw away otherwise recyclable packaging materials with their general waste. This creates a tremendous amount of otherwise recyclable waste that could’ve been repurposed. Instead of becoming useful to someone else in another capacity, it’ll see out its days as landfill waste.
The best solution is to clearly label your packaging as recyclable to encourage eco-friendly behaviours. For example, our self-seal postal boxes reveal a message once opened: “plastic free, recycle me”, reminding consumers to dispose of our packaging responsibly.
Recycling Isn’t a Permanent Solution
Nothing lasts forever, and recyclable packaging materials are no different. Paper can be recycled numerous times, but part of its appeal — the fact that it will naturally degrade over time — means it can’t be recycled indefinitely. While some metals can be recycled multiple times, it takes energy and resources to do so. On the other hand, cardboard packaging will eventually decompose, leaving no trace of its existence. While it can’t be recycled again and again, it will return to the earth as natural compounds, closing the packaging loop without causing harm to the environment.
Recycling Plastics Is Difficult
In the UK, recycling mixed plastics is costly. Few facilities have the specialist machinery required to separate and recycle mixed plastics, making it an expensive and resource-intensive endeavour. This means that a large percentage of mixed plastic waste is exported to countries with lax regulations where it’s dumped, buried or burned. When this happens, the environmental consequences are dire.
Plus, while you might think plastic is a durable material, it can only be recycled a few times — sometimes only once or twice. The quality of the recycled product diminishes each time it is processed, which means that it’ll eventually end up as landfill waste, where it’ll start the centuries-long process of decomposition.
Plastics Aren’t Always Recyclable
There are seven main types of plastic. Each is given a unique Resin Identification Code, which can be found on most plastic packaging. You’ll usually find these small triangles with numbers inside printed on the bottom of packaging, but they aren’t mandatory for manufacturers, making recycling more challenging.
Commonly recyclable plastics include:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) — Water bottles and plastic trays.
- High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) — Milk cartons and shampoo bottles.
- Polypropylene (PP) — Margarine tubs and ready-meal trays.
Other plastics can only be recycled at specialist facilities:
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) — Gloves, masks and medical containers
- Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) — Plastic bags and squeeze bottles
- Polystyrene (PS) — Plastic cutlery and void-fill packaging.
Products with a number “7” printed on them are classed as “other”, indicating they’re either a hybrid or specially produced plastic. In any case, they cannot be recycled. Similarly, if no Resin Identification Number is present, it’s assumed that the packaging or product cannot be recycled.
For this reason, amongst the others we’ve mentioned, we recommend avoiding all oil-based plastics in packaging in the first place. You can easily swap things like bubble wrap for paper void fill packaging, giving you a recycled and recyclable solution that doesn’t harm the environment.
Is All Recyclable Packaging Eco-Friendly?
Fully recyclable packaging made from renewable materials like paper, cardboard and Kraft doesn’t compromise performance or cost the earth. On the other hand, recyclable packaging materials like plastic aren’t environmentally friendly.
Plastic packaging is manufactured using harmful chemicals and non-renewable fossil fuels, but the recycling process isn’t efficient either, making plastics doubly worse for the environment. Until plastic recycling becomes more advanced, the best way to reduce landfill waste and slash your carbon footprint is by focusing on “renewable recyclables”.
When using these kinds of recyclable packaging materials, you can protect your consumers’ conscience if they’re caught short. If they cannot be recycled, compostable and biodegradable packaging products provide a fail-safe solution that protects the planet.
Buying Renewable and Recyclable Packaging
Recycling has come a long way, but the world has a long way to go until everything that’s currently deemed “recyclable” is truly a sustainable option. For now, recyclable packaging in the form of paper and cardboard provides a simple, effective and eco-friendly packaging solution.
Need plastic-free packaging? Check out our online shop and discover a range of eco-friendly boxes, mailers and bags, and enjoy free UK mainland shipping on all orders with no minimum order value.