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Nov. 30, 2020, 12:26 p.m.

What different Recycling Codes Mean?

Kick of the New Year with Greener Packaging..

What different
recycling codes mean?
Before we get into how sustainable packaging is, you need to understand some basic jargon as recyclable doesn’t always mean recyclable as different towns and cities have different facilities that limit them on what they can recycle. What is also classed as recyclable in one country does not always mean the same in another, so the origin of the seller should also be known!

Now in the UK plastics are commonly labelled with a recycling code 1 – 7, based on their material and how easily recyclable they are. Recycling Codes 1 and 2 contain the most common plastic goods and are widely recyclable in the UK. This generally includes mono material products made of PET or HDPE which makes up the majority of Rigid / Hard plastic consumables, plastic bottles, and jars.

The truth is anything unrecyclable is bad, be it paper or plastic, in actual fact a non-recycled paper bag consumes more natural resources than a plastic bag. It takes down a tree that removes co2 from the atmosphere and then consumes a ridiculous amount of energy to convert to bring it to the form you see it in. The only difference is it degrades back into the earth in about a decade! On the contrary plastic consumes less resources to produce without impacting the process of removing carbon from the atmosphere the only time it causes harm is when its not recycled, which makes single use packaging regardless of material a huge culprit.

Moving on we come to recycling codes 3-5 which is PVC, LDPE, & PPE respectively, now these materials are recyclable but aren’t typically recyclable in common waste streams such as the recycling bins found at your supermarket. These require specialist centres to recycle them. Many dual layer plastics also fall into this category which require facilities that can separate the two layers e.g. in a crisp packet where foil and plastic have been welded together. This is also one of the most commonly misunderstood categories where many people in the market will tell you their product has a recycling code 4 for example however this is only valid if the material can be separated in that particular country! You may find many of the larger brands with these types of products work with private recycling centres by offering a paid return service for consumers.

Lastly we come to recycling codes 6 & 7 which in short aren’t really recyclable in the UK despite having a recycling code which is due to the fact very few centres recycle these types of materials e.g. polystyrene and polycarbonate. This is typically used for plastic cutlery, foam packaging, egg cartons, water cooler bottles and baby bottles however more often then none this type of plastic is far more reusable and has a long life span. At this point we find an emerging pattern arises the longer shelf life you require or the longer reusability you require, the less easily recyclable the material will become.
Recyclable Vs Biodegradable Vs Compostable...
So as we mentioned above the longer shelf life the less easily recyclable the material becomes the reverse is also true. The more naturally degradable or organic or eco-friendly your packaging is your product shelf life drops dramatically. However, beyond that many paper based materials due to their porous construction aren’t food grade safe beyond a few hours if that. Often we have had customer who have fought with us for these types of materials and after repeated no’s ended up going elsewhere. In the end they all come back to us telling us tales of how their packaging started showing stains, they didn’t even know their product had the slightest moisture or that their products became soggy and the quality deteriorated.

Here is a basic overview of the 3 main types of flexible packaging available to help you decide what the best solution is for you!
1. Recyclable
a. Can match the barrier properties of traditional packaging
b. Can be widely recycled
c. Provides a decent product shelf life for majority of non-corrosive items
d. Does not degrade unlike other solutions
2. Biodegradable
a. Usually provided in a two layer Kraft and PE Solution for food products otherwise not suitable for food grade items
b. The plastic is derived from plant based materials thus less toxins
c. Need specific conditions to degrade or will end up in landfill
d. Doesn’t share the same recycling stream as normal plastic and when disposed in the same manner become contaminated and unusable
e. Higher cost but least emissions created during production
f. Not suitable in warm climates
g. Printing – food grade inks must be used to avoid ink toxins seeping in
3. Compostable
a. Not suitable in warm climates or high moisture environments
b. Not suitable where slightly warm products are packed into
c. Starts degrading on the shelf, becomes wrinkly
d. Maximum shelf life in room temperature conditions 6 months.
e. Will not keep your product fresh as it has a poor barrier to moisture & oxygen
f. Windows are almost never clear
g. Printed colours don’t come out well due to its highly porous nature. “Certified compostable & water based inks” must be used to avoid exposing packed product to toxic chemicals
h. “In the Context of UK composting environment the majority of our composting facilities are Anaerobic Digestion plants where all organic waste is de-packaged and sent to landfill. Only a very tiny proportion of organic waste goes to Industrial Composting facilities due to lack of capacity.
i. You will end up having to arrange your own end of life composting service for your customers.
j. Moisture Stains are a common occurrence
Best Solutions for My Product
Well that’s down to you, how quickly your product turns around, how price sensitive you are and to what extent your product requires barrier properties..
Be sure to check out our recyclable range, and our 100% recyclable pouches available in both stock and custom print.
We understand this can be overwhelming but we’re here to help! Book in a Free Consultation with us and we’ll walk you through all our product ranges, materials, additional options that can help you become you more eco-friendly!