What Packaging Materials Are Biodegradable & Recyclable?

What Packaging Materials Are Biodegradable & Recyclable?

As businesses, politicians and the general public become increasingly aware of the need to change our behaviours for the sake of the planet, one of the most urgent issues that surfaces again and again is how we deal with our household and commercial waste. Much of this waste is packaging.

Packaging materials are an integral aspect of our everyday lives. From food packaging to the packaging of consumer products such as electrical goods, children’s toys, household items and furniture, almost everything we purchase is packaged in some way. The substantial growth in the packaging of goods over the past few decades has had a huge impact on the amount of waste generated by households and businesses.


Why Should We Care?

When recyclable waste ends up in landfill it can take many years to rot, and during the decomposition process, methane gas is released into the atmosphere. Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases, and is thought to contribute hugely towards global warming and subsequent climate change.

Some types of packaging – such as synthetic plastic – are still made from materials that will either never decompose or take decades or even centuries to decompose. A foam plastic cup can take up to 50 years to biodegrade, and some types of plastic bottles can take up to 450 years! Non-biodegradable plastics cause widespread damage on vast areas of land, as well as to the wildlife in our oceans.


How Are Things Changing?

The EU’s original Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive set a minimum recycling target of 55% for packaging waste to be met by Member States. The Directive also sets material-specific recycling targets. In 2016, these were: 60% for glass, paper and cardboard; 50% for metals; 22.5% for plastics; and 15% for wood. The EU’s latest target for recycling of packaging waste overall is 75% by 2030. Although these are required minimum targets, Member States do have the freedom to set higher domestic targets if they choose.

The UK government’s Office of National Statistics most recent figures show that in 2016, 71.4% of UK packaging waste was either recycled or recovered, amounting to 7.4 million tonnes of the total 11.5 million tonnes produced. This was up from 64.7% in 2015. Paper and cardboard waste amounted to 4.7 million tonnes in 2016. The highest recycling rate achieved in the same year was also for paper and cardboard at 81.9%, followed by 68.7% for metal and 67.1% for glass.

This is great progress but there is still a long way to go, and we could all do more to ensure that those percentages keep rising.

The most commonly used biodegradable & recyclable packaging materials include:

Paper and cardboard: Many packaging companies now create and promote products made with high proportions of recycled paper. Both can be recycled and reused again and again. Shredded magazines, and newspapers can be used as protective packaging when sending parcels in the post or moving house.

Bubble wrap: You can now purchase bubble wrap made from recycled polythene, and bubble wrap which is completely biodegradable. Reuse your bubble wrap when storing items away in the loft, when sending breakable parcels, or when moving house.

Biodegradable plastic: Many plastics are now biodegradable, and these are increasingly being used for plastic bags, plastic bulk mailing envelopes, etc. Consider filling a large plastic bottle with smaller pieces of clean mixed plastics and polystyrene waste to make eco-bricks, which can be used to build a shed, or even to form the structure of your home!

Corn starch: Corn starch is often used for food packaging, particularly takeaway foods. It offers a good alternative to polystyrene, which is non-biodegradable and still goes to landfill. Corn starch can decompose within just a few months if disposed of correctly, as it breaks down into carbon dioxide and water when exposed to daylight. Corn starch food packaging can be reused as an alternative to polystyrene for packing peanuts, to act as cushioning for spaces around packaged items.


Wrapping Up (see what we did there?)

People are often confused when it comes to deciding whether a packaging item is or isn’t recyclable, and if they are uncertain they may opt to throw out the item in the general waste instead. So, learning about which packaging materials are actually biodegradable and recyclable is something we can all do for the environment.

By putting pressure on manufacturers, actively seeking out and purchasing biodegradable, recyclable alternatives, and repurposing packaging materials wherever possible, together we can help to reduce their destructive environmental effects.

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