How, When and Where Can You Recycle Recyclable Packaging?

Tell Me How, Where and When – Please!

My local council has recently changed its recycling scheme. Formerly, we were provided with thin plastic orange bags into which we could place all our recycling: paper, card, plastic, wrapping paper (no glitter), yoghurt pots, plastic trays of all denominations, shredded paper, plastic bags etc etc. When this scheme was introduced, much was made of the fact that all this waste would be sorted at the recycling centre and sent off to the appropriate waste chain (including the thin plastic orange bags).

However, last month we were told that this system would be replaced. Every household has been issued with two plasticized hessian bags which seal at the top with velcro. One of these is designated for paper and card. No shredded paper. The other is designated for plastics and tins. These bags are emptied every other week – the refuse collectors empty them into a wheely bin and leave the bags outside on the pavement.

There are a few problems with these bags as follows:

  • They are too heavy and bulky for elderly people to move.
  • They are difficult to store as once wet and dirty, people do not want to keep them in their house.
  • They are too big to store in most houses.
  • They are weighted at the bottom but if it’s windy they blow away down the street.
  • If you are out at work all day, you are likely to find your bag has blown down the street by the time you get home.
  • They are awkward to empty so a lot of the contents are dropped onto the street by the refuse men and are left there.

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A Retrograde Step

However, the most unsettling aspect of this new regime is that the council have cut down on the items that they collect for recycling. I asked them why and asked them to comment on the differences between their recycling policy and those of a neighbouring council and this is their reply:

 At the present moment we’re unable to collect liquid and food  cartons – such as tetrapak – as the MRF are unable to sort them from other 3D containers. The only option for sorting would be by hand-picking and this would not be a safe practice nor commercially viable. There is a secondary processor in the UK – ACE UK – where they shred the material to recover the fibre and usually the LDPE and aluminium content is lost as residual waste. Nonetheless, we are contacting Ace UK to look at the viability of a container at our bring site. Regards plastic bags, and other film, whilst they can be captured through the MRF process, there is no end market due to a lack of facilities and due to the level of contamination that is normally found. The MRF do try and update the materials they can accept on a regular basis and the situation concerning plastic bags and film, may change.

XXX Council (a neighbouring council) have a sorting plant for plastics and tetrapak at their depot; which sorts the plastic by grades and subsequently bales them. The lower grade plastic, such as plastic bags, film along with tetrapak,  is delivered to a processor that charges a gate fee – currently we receive an income, as opposed to paying a gate fee. Their material may be processed or alternatively used in an energy from waste plant.   We’ve taken an alternate route whereby we want to ensure that all the plastic , along with other materials, is recycled by a processor. Hence our listings are quite specific about what we can or cannot accept, however as stated previously these lists are subject to regular review.

email from local council

It seems, therefore, that we can no longer recycle plastic bags, carrier bags, plastic film, tetrapak or shredded paper at our roadside.

This is highly disappointing to me as even when the big companies decide to package their crisps in recyclable packaging as they promise they will, I won’t be able to recycle them.

The word ‘recyclable’ means NOTHING in real terms. Yes, it’s recyclable but it won’t get recycled because THERE IS NO END MARKET.

hand holding a yellow plastic bag
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

What About Supermarkets?

You can drop off plastic bags and in some cases bread bags at large supermarkets for recycling. So apparently supermarkets have an ‘end market’ for plastic bags and polyethelene but local councils don’t. Perhaps local councils cannot afford the end market whereas supermarkets can?

What Can We Do?

  • Lobby the supermarkets.
  • Support recycling schemes such as Terracycle
  • Complain to your council
  • Buy your produce loose where you can
  • Ask manufacturers to make their packaging biodegradable
  • Try the delivery service Loop which provides your groceries in reusable containers which they will collect and reuse.
  • Do your best to recycle every item which maintains it is recyclable!

Further Reading

© Michelle Le Grand
Out of the Office
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