Whether you see it as a challenge or a chore, recycling food packaging waste is a growing part of everyday life for most households.
Recycling food packaging waste keeps your general waste bin emptier for longer, helps protect the environment and can even save money if you buy more economical refill pouches instead of a new full glass jar or bottle every time.
But it’s not all a bed of roses, because try as you might, there are some food containers you can’t recycle in kerbside collections or in most other convenient locations.
Here are some examples of what to avoid and, where possible, the easy everyday alternatives to food containers you can’t recycle.
1. Flimsy films
Most flimsy and flexible plastic films are not collected in kerbside plastic recycling, which can be frustrating because they are used practically everywhere.
From clingfilm to crisp packets, carrier bags to the hidden internal packaging of frozen foods, flimsy films show up constantly.
You can avoid some of them by, for example, buying loose fruit and veg instead of the pre-packed stuff, or by using less clingfilm and replacing it with recyclable kitchen foil or rigid Tupperware containers.
2. Mixed materials
There are certain ‘usual suspects’ when it comes to mixed materials food packaging, and they are usually not recyclable.
Examples include crisps that come in foil-lined cardboard tubes, as well as some plastic-lined cardboard drinks cartons and plastic drinks bottles that have a separate plastic film label.
The best thing to do is to avoid these mixed-materials food containers where possible, or directly reuse them if you can, although there’s only so many money boxes and stationery organisers you can reasonably have around the house.
3. Coffee cups
Again, most disposable coffee cups are made with mixed materials, including a plastic liner to make them waterproof and to retain heat in the drink for longer.
They are generally not recycled in kerbside collections, although work is ongoing to improve on this, so it’s worth looking out for alternatives like reusable travel cups that you can get filled with fresh coffee at your favourite shop.
4. Microwave meals
If you dutifully wash and recycle microwave meal plastic trays, you could be wasting your time – especially if they’re made of black plastic.
Black plastic poses unique challenges, because it’s often made of a mix of other plastics, dyed with carbon pigments, and harder for automated recycling systems to detect – so look for other colours if possible, and they should be more readily recycled.
5. Takeaway pizza boxes
Wait, what? You can’t recycle takeaway pizza boxes? That’s right – although they are often made of plain ‘recyclable’ cardboard, the grease and cheese residue means they would contaminate the paper recycling process.
Even worse, if you throw even one greasy pizza box in your kerbside paper recycling bin, you risk contaminating not only your entire bin, but the entire lorry load of paper collected on that day.
What can you do? Well, not a lot really. One option if you have a compost bin or compost heap, is to tear the box into small pieces and mix them in – this will help to aerate your compost and keep it dry, and the box, food residue and even any wax coating on the cardboard should all compost down just fine.