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We are still waiting for the government to release UK recycling stats for 2017 but the data we do have up to 2016 indicates that, overall, there has been a marked increase in recycling, with the amount of household waste being recycled increasing year on year to 45.2% in 2016 and 71.4% of UK packaging waste either being recycled or recovered compared to 64.7% in 2015. Whilst this is great progress (especially as the EU recycling target was 60% for packaging waste), it still leaves a deficit where waste is being sent to landfill instead of being recycled or reused.

Common packaging materials

The packaging used across the board for commercial and private postage is largely the same; from plain envelopes to bubble wrap, we’ve all used it. It’s very easy to just discard used packaging when you’ve received your item, but there are better ways to ensure you’re being as eco-friendly as possible.

Plain paper envelopes

  • No matter the colour, size or shape, paper envelopes can be easily recycled, so there’s no excuse for putting them into a general waste bin instead of the recycling pile.
  • Alternatively, you can extend their life by using them as scrap paper to write on, make notes etc.
  • Another idea is to reuse them – as long as the flap hasn’t been completely torn off, then there’s no reason why you can’t stick an address label over the original writing and Sellotape the flap back down for sending on.

Envelope windows

  • The paper part of an envelope window can be easily recycled without problems, it’s the window that can cause the hassle.
  • Some manufacturers to add recycling labels to their envelope windows, to make it clear what can and can’t be recycled. If this isn’t the case, then to be safe we’d recommend cutting the window out and recycling the paper portion only.
  • Some recycling plants do filter out the windows, but not all – so this approach avoids having the whole thing sent to landfill. Check with your local council run waste facility to be sure.
  • You can alternatively go down the reuse route with these, depending on their condition.

Padded envelopes

  • These are made from mixed materials so will need to be separated before being recycled. That said, both the bubble wrap and paper envelope can be recycled in the same bin
  • Reusing is also a great option for these, as they are hardier than a normal paper envelope and can withstand being resent in the post more times before they’re at the end of their lifespan.
  • The bubble wrap within a padded envelope can also be reused separately for other packaging.

Brown paper

  • Easily recycled through normal recycling channels
  • Can be easily reused as long as it is handled carefully when it is unwrapped.
  • From a reuse perspective, it can be used again for packaging but also for wrapping presents or for giving protection within other packaging to the items inside

Sticky tape

  • Most sticky tape is NOT recyclable so will need to go into the general waste bin. This means that it should be separated from any other packaging and disposed of separately to avoid the whole lot going to landfill
  • This includes duct tape, scotch tape, painters tape and masking tape
  • Sticky tape is hard to reuse because it cannot be easily preserved once used, but it can be balled up and used as protection within other types of packaging for the items inside.
  • It is possible to buy environmentally friendly tapes made from transparent cellulose film, but these are not readily available in stores.

Cardboard boxes

  • The cardboard itself is 100% recyclable, it’s the other components to watch for like sticky tape (as above) or plastic windows.
  • Cardboard boxes generally lend themselves well to reuse as long as they are looked after
  • The downside is that they either take up a lot of room to store until they are needed for reuse, or have to be collapsed to fold flat, which can lead them being damaged if they have been sealed with things like metal staples.

Plastic envelopes

  • Plastic envelopes are often seen on boxes to protect shipping documents. Whether they can be recycled depends largely on the material, so if you aren’t 100% sure then separate them from the box and put them into the general waste bin.
  • These are easy to reuse if you take care to unfold them from the box, but they can rip easily.
  • Even if they do become damaged and can’t be reused for their original purpose, you can always cut them down to tape on as a protective cover for a shipping label.

Shipping labels/documentation

  • As long as these are made from paper or card, they can be recycled without issue
  • Depending on the size and condition of the material, reuse is an option – either for their original purpose but turned over, or internally as scrap paper.
  • Any sensitive information should be properly destroyed (i.e. shredded) so it does not become a risk

Plastic bags

  • Often, documents or delicate items are wrapped inside plastic bags to give extra protection from water or damage. Depending on the plastic material, some can be recycled. Check the labelling.
  • Plastic bags are easy to reuse in a range of conditions – either for their original purpose, or to store things away internally.

Author Rebecca Sturgess

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