Mixed Messages: Recycling Plastic Packaging

Rach reminded me yesterday it's a couple of years since I posted about how difficult it is to get clear information about recycling plastic. In that time it has got a little better as companies have started to label their packaging more clearly with recycling details.

Or have they? Rach's excellent post showed one labelling scheme in operation, but this morning I noticed another one as used by the supermarket chain, Morrison's. Which packet do you think can be recycled? The one on the right perhaps? Wrong. Despite the green tick and the smiley face the small print actually says:

Not recyclable everywhere yet. To find out about recycling in your area visit www.recyclenow.com.
As you may have guessed, I'm a little annoyed. I wonder how many people just go on the visual cues and happily recycle that bag with a warm eco-friendly glow as they do so? What are the consequences of that action? We seem to be experiencing a plethora of different labelling schemes for recycling food packaging just as we have for the nutrition of the food within it. Why can't we have just one clear scheme? And if Morrison's do persist with this particular one might I suggest the following:
  • The face for non-recyclable goods (as shown on the left) is changed to red with a downturned mouth
  • If an item is not recyclable everywhere, the face displayed is amber in colour and with a straight mouth
  • Only goods recyclable everywhere should have a green smiley face and a green tick
  • Larger lettering would be helpful as we don't all have perfect vision
I'm just about to email this post to Morrison's. If you have anything further to add on this subject, please do so in the Comments below.
Update: Grrr and double grrr! I've just taken the above link to the Recycle Now website and have failed to find anything which tells me whether I can recycle the packet on the right in the picture in my area.
There's plenty of information on plastics and what various labels mean (including the scheme Rach posted about), but nothing explaining the Morrison's one. As there's no information on the packet to tell me which type of plastic I'm dealing with, I can't use the rest of the information on the site to see whether I can use my local recycling centre if its a type 1-3 plastic, or the plastic bag recycling facility (type 4 plastic - film) at either of my two local supermarkets.
Now I'm a pretty committed recycler and tenacious when it comes to finding out information. However, I'm probably in a very small minority and I suspect the majority of people don't bother, or will give up pretty quickly if they can't find an immediate answer and just throw their packet away so that it ends up in landfill. So I'm also emailing a link to this post to Recycle Now for their comments.
A further comment for Recycle Now: it's quite difficult to find the centre information wanted from the map presented after the postcode search when there's several sites close together. It would be really useful if the map showed the location name when each of them is hovered over with the mouse.


  1. You would think this wouldn't be hard...:-/

  2. What annoys us is that different councils recycle different types of plastic. Our council recycles plastic bottles and we have to take them to a recycle point. Other councils a lot of different plastics. We are still throwing a lot of plastics into landfill.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  3. Susan - quite!

    Sylvia - that's what I've written about earlier (and linked to). It's not just the different types, it's also the different ways of collecting. Here, we have to take them to the local recycling facility, but NAH's aunt ib Dorset has them collected from her house.

    Rach has some good points on all of this too in the article of hers I linked to.

  4. great ideas,vp! now if only such sensible suggestions would be put in place. as far as i have been able to figure out, in my area, the problem is with the contracts. if one company can reclycle say 95% of all plastics, *all* companies can--provided the city/entity signing the contract will *pay* the company what extra they want! the same goes for the pick-up schedule. larger cities pick up less often because weekly costs more than the city wants to pay.

  5. Thanks for taking this up VP, I think all your ideas are good ones, and it's a great idea to email Morrisons directly about it. I hope they will take your suggestions on board.

    Recycling is pretty easy where I live, but for those who do have three different bins to separate plastics, cans and glass into, this added confusion over plastics may be the straw that breaks the camel's back and they may just think 'to hell with this!' and just chuck everything in the bin. We need as much clarity as possible here.

    Rach x

  6. I'm assuming these bags are for produce? I've solved that problem by buying my produce at the local farmer's market where I just load it into a basket. No plastic involved. However, in the winter, when the farmer's market isn't running, I have to use the dreaded plastic bags because if I load everything into my basket at the grocery store, they take it all out to weigh it individually and I really don't like the cashiers handling my food. Luckily (?), we do have recycle bins for plastic bags at the grocery stores here. They turn these bags into plastic lumber, which I think is just as nasty as plastic bags.

  7. Recyclable or not, our council has told us (apologetically because of its green credentials and Newcastle's recent status as top green city) that we can only put plastic drinks bottles in our recyc bins, as they can't find anyone to take the other plastic. My son's council in London doesn't take cardboard - it says much of it has already been recycled, so is worthless.
    It makes you want to weep, doesn't it.

  8. Great post. How about a 5th option when you write to Morrisons?

    "If the packaging CANNOT be recycled, then DO NOT use it"

    Your photo proves there is packaging which can be recycled, so what justification can the supplier have for using one that cannot?

    If all food producers stopped buying the packaging that cannot be recycled, or the supermarkets refused to take it, very quickly the stuff would cease to become available.

  9. Petoskystone - I do hope so and good points about how how much an authority allocates to a service can impact on what's available.

    Citybumpkin - and thank you for your excellent timing and inspiration :)

    Moonstone - they are for produce and good point about choosing to shop where non-plastic options are available. However, the packet on the left was from some fresh pasta a food that I have no option but to buy it from the supermarket in a plastic bag if I'm to have it. I take my own produce bags for stuff like fruit and veg, however my husband hasn't quite got the message yet that this is the thing to do. We also buy from our local farm shop which provides paper bags for produce and also sells cotton produce bags :)

    Bilbowaggins - good point. We too often forget the reduce element of the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. I'd also add refuse to that, which of course is what Moonstone Gardens is doing. Your suggestion is the ultimate aim, but I believe interim baby steps such as the suggestions I've outlined are needed to get there in the end.

  10. Rachel - welcome! Yes, it does make me want to weep, especially when you have situations such as mixed plastic being used for plastic bottles. All too often the bottle itself is recyclable, but the lid and the piece which secures it to the bottle aren't and should be taken off before recycling. Companies need to realise that the public need things to be kept simple: many just won't recycle at all if it's more complicated than just throwing it into a recycle bin. Similarly, more kerbside recycling is also needed rather than all those car miles to take it to the (often not so) local recycling facility.

    Of course we can help in our consumer choices - either refusing packaging, taking our own or only buying stuff with recyclable packaging. However, those kind of options aren't usually available at the cheaper end of the food market and if the current labelling says something is recyclable when in fact that's only true in 65% of cases, then it's no wonder the majority of people stick with 'just throw it in the bin it's not my problem'.

  11. PS do these companies actually know how difficult it is to get the ring piece off the top plastic bottles before recycling? I feel I'm in danger of chopping something off my fingers every time I do so. I suspect older people don't even bother.

    I wonder how many casualty visits are due to people attempting to do this and slice into a finger with their scissors?

  12. hmm--makes me wonder exactly what goes on at the recycling plant. i never take the plastic ring/top off-it just goes in the bin. the soda cans & bottles go through the machine at the local grocers as then i get the 5 cent rebate from recycling. the machines take the top & all & chop it up the same!

  13. I'm not sure I've ever seen a note like this on plastic bags in the U.S. We put so much plastic in our landfills, it's no wonder they're filling up. My pet peeve is with all the plastic bags used at supermarkets and other stores. I've gone to reusable bags as much as possible, but before that I would collect the plastic bags and every so often drop them off at a local store to be recycled. Then I read that those bags weren't actually being recycled but were being dumped anyway. Confusing, to say the least.

  14. I'm coming to this a bit late, sorry.

    Your suggestions seem very sensible, VP, and it might be worth emailing them to other supermarkets, as well as Morrisons.

    In South Cambs they changed our recycling facilities for plastic about a year ago, I think. Up until that point we could recycle anything which had the numbers 1 or 2 in the little recycling triangle, but not any other numbers - and we had to take them to "local" recycling bins. Now we have a tub for kerbside collection, which probably means most people are recycling more. However, R and I are actually recycling less because we can no longer put in any plastic which is not a bottle. We can recycle all plastic bottles, whichever number they have on them, but we cannot recycle other packaging, even if it says 1 or 2. I don't know why they can no longer recycle the plastic containers from things like packs of tomatoes or peaches, but as we get through a lot more of those than we do through bottles which say 3, 4, 5, or 6, we are recycling less, which is very frustrating.

    We have to take the lids off the bottles as well, which is a pain, but we are at least able to reuse them - we save the ones from things like bottles of mineral water to use as pot feet or crocks.

  15. Petoskystone - good point!

    Rose - confusing is an understatement!

    Juliet - we had a similar change a while ago at the recycling centre. It said just plastic bottles were accepted, but when I clarified with the council it turned out that all other plastic of the same type was accepted. It might be worth checking with your local council too?


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