Where To Waste: Thin Plastic Wrapping, Bags & Film
Some zero-waste swaps are easy: after a bit of practice, it becomes second nature to bring canvas bags and water bottles when heading out for the day. Since the 5p bag charge was introduced in 2015, plastic carrier bags have amazingly become rather rare: The UK has reduced usage by a whopping 86% and some supermarkets have got rid of 5p bags completely! But the battle is not yet over – despite the recent rise in zero-waste shops, plastic is still used to package the majority of supermarket foods, and small shops can still offer free carrier bags. As we all do our bit to try and reduce plastic, there are some foods that it’s really hard to find plastic-free (tofu sausages, I mean you!). Thankfully there are now a few new ways to recycle thin plastics that you might not know about!
Thin plastic that is used to package foods generally falls into three categories:
stretchy carrier-bag type low-density polyethylene (LDPE) (resin ID code 4)
crinkly plastic film (yoghurt pot lids, pre-prepared salad bags, peel-off lids from grapes)
biodegradable or compostable plastics
Did you know that clean LDPE plastic packaging can be recycled with carrier bags at most larger supermarkets? This includes bread bags, frozen veg bags, magazine wrappers, bubble wrap and more.
Make sure to clean any food packaging thoroughly so it doesn’t contaminate the rest of the load – unwashed items can lead to a whole shipment of recycling getting thrown out.
Crinkly plastic film can be saved and recycled, but it’s more difficult to find places that will take it. In the Bristol area, Marks & Spencer Cribbs Causeway, Tesco Brislington and Tesco Keynsham are all trialing schemes for ‘hard-to-recycle’ plastics. Keep a bag in your kitchen just for plastic films, it will take months to fill, so you won’t have to make a special trip too often.
Biodegradable and compostable plastics pose another problem. Most ‘biodegradable’ plastics such as polylactic acid (PLA) will only break down in commercial or industrial composting, as the average garden heap doesn’t generate enough heat. If the plastic is labelled as ‘home compostable’ it should be fine in a garden or allotment compost heap. If you don’t have access to a compost heap then sadly, biodegradable and compostable plastics will need to be put into the bin. Even most council food waste composting schemes prefer not to take them as they can clog the processing machines.
You can also make ecobricks from LDPE plastic packaging and plastic film. Sign up here to find out more: www.gobrik.com Bricking It Bristol have got a Facebook page here.
If you’re keen to recycle thin plastics but don’t live anywhere near to a drop off point, Terracycle offer a paid-for collection service for recycling all plastic packaging. Prices start at £125.50, but it’s taken The Green Shopper’s family of three more than nine months to fill the smallest size box with plastic film. This works out at around £3.50 a week – a small price to pay to ensure those pesky thin plastics are kept out of landfill and waste incineration. Find out more here.
It’s totally understandable if you’re confused about your packaging is made from, the UK doesn’t yet have a standardised system. Recycle Now have a handy guide to help you identify what each recycling label means.
This top tip is from their website:
“Remember: not all packaging will have a recycling label but this doesn’t mean you can’t recycle it.”