Can You Recycle Food Packaging, Containers and Trays?

Whether you’re grabbing a snack from a street stall or browsing the supermarket aisles for a convenience meal, it can be confusing to know which parts of a meal’s packaging can be recycled and which can’t. 

In this blog, answer the question “can you recycle food packaging?” and teach you how to decipher between sustainable, smart packaging and plain, old plastic. 

Window with coffee cups and coffee, stall, kiosk
Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

Tip #1 Read the Label 

It sounds simple but food labels generally have all of the information you need. You just need to know how to decode it. If you’re not familiar with recycling signs in the UK, read our blog The Recycling Sign on Packaging, Explained. Here, we discuss what each symbol means, as well as a breakdown of different plastic numbers and what they stand for. 

Food packaging may also have written instructions, as well as visual cues. Often, convenience meals will have handy instructions like “film not recyclable” to direct you. 

Look for this information within the fine print on the reverse side of the packet. 

Although every meal is different, most packaged meals in the UK have a combination of some elements that will be recyclable and some that won’t. If a product is 100% recyclable, it will often be highlighted on the front of the packaging. Even so, 100% recyclable items will often house multiple components that require disposal in different bins depending on their materials. 

Takeaway packaging is a little trickier since it’s often given without instruction. If you’re not confident about deducing which materials have been used, your best bet is to ask your vendor. Since the vendor will work with a packaging supplier –– like us –– they should know the full waste credentials of their product. 

Tip #2 Buy from a Sustainable Store

Stepping into a supermarket can be overwhelming. Juggling priorities such as pricing, prep time, nutrition and sustainability is tiring, meaning we sometimes buy the wrong things. A meal might tick a few of our boxes –– affordable, takes less than 10 minutes to cook and is relatively healthy –– but it might miss the mark when it comes to packaging. 

To make things easier, you could consider shopping at a sustainable supermarket such as a no-waste store or a supermarket with eco-initiatives. But, how should you choose? 

Shopping at a store that is generally better at providing sustainable options will take the personal pressure off this priority so you can spend more time monitoring your grocery bill and diet plan. The same goes for ordering from environmentally friendly takeaways and restaurants. 

Tip #3 Think about the Contents 

Even environmental packaging can quickly become hard to dispose of if grease or food remnants contaminate its surface. Materials like card may not be accepted at recycling facilities if they’re covered in dirt. Remember, always wipe your packaging clean before disposal. 

For this reason, dry foods are generally a safer option. If it’s a toss up between dry popcorn and cheesy nachos, this could be the deciding factor. 

However, you should never miss out on your favourite meal in the face of sustainability. Wet foods found in takeaways and convenience meals should be equipped with thoughtful packaging that can present an effective barrier against grease. Using materials such as bioplastic and PLA lining ensures card and other soft materials are made more sturdy. A water resistant, plastic-like lining protects the outer packaging making it more durable. That’s why we use bioplastic PLA or PLA lining to protect our compostable cups, as well as our cold food containers and hot food containers

Tip #4 Pick the Appropriate Bin 

Putting recyclable items in the incorrect bin is the equivalent of failing at the final hurdle. 

An otherwise recyclable item won’t be recycled if you don’t fulfil your responsibility of putting it in the right recycling bin. The BBC shares the life cycle of an aluminium can if put into the incorrect bin. Spoiler alert! Your recyclable item will, most likely, be diverted to landfill and take a lifetime to decompose. 

Worryingly, an estimated 30% of recycling rubbish that arrives at sorting facilities is incorrectly placed, meaning many of us are failing to recycle correctly. 

Public bins are often colour coded to make this job easier unless they’re a general waste bin, in which case you should avoid putting recyclable rubbish into it. 

At home, you can make recycling easier by opting for a sectional bin that has compartments for glass, paper and general household waste. 

Tip #5 When in Doubt, Buy Glass

If you’re feeling stuck and aren’t sure what’s most sustainable, glass is always a great, fail-safe option. Although glass items are often more expensive, they’re always 100% recyclable and can make excellent containers to reuse in your home. Plenty of dessert, condiment and toiletry brands exclusively use glass to package their products. 

While this swift solution works for supermarket products, it’s not so simple for takeaways. 

That’s where we come in. Our smart packaging solutions use innovative materials to make takeaways both environmentally friendly and user friendly. Choose from containers made from sugar cane and biodegradable coffee cups made from plants. Plus, all of our products can be customised with good-for-the-planet veggie inks.