Is Food Packaging Really Recyclable?

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In London, a recent study by the Local Government Association found that up to 40 percent of the packaging in grocery stores is not easily recyclable, and that every ton of garbage that isn’t recycled costs £32 (about $46) in disposal costs for the council.

While no formal study on grocery packaging has been done in the U.S., the EPA says that packaging (mostly paper) makes up about 32 percent of household trash. This does not account for any paper that is being recycled or composted.

While cardboard is recyclable, think twice before trying to give greasy packaging a second life.

While cardboard is recyclable, think twice before trying to give greasy packaging a second life.

The report raises several questions about the recyclability of products, including what packaging is not recyclable at all and what packaging is not “easily recyclable.” In the case of paper, while over 80 percent of American homes have access to curbside recycling that collects paper, that doesn’t mean all paper packaging will be accepted.

As far as what is “not recyclable” from your food packaging, here are a few examples:

  • Individual candy wrappers or potato chip bags with a mylar lining
  • Any plastic bags that used to package food
  • Cardboard or paperboard with oil stains from food (e.g. pizza boxes)

One idea that has gained appeal in the U.S. is precycling, where a shopper thinks about the recyclability of packaging while at the store. You can use Earth911.com to find out if recycling options for specific packaging are available in your area.

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