Can You Recycle Raw Meat Packaging in the UK?

Unwrapping a festive Christmas turkey. Treating your dog to a Birthday steak. Polishing off a rewarding Sunday roast. There’s plenty of times when we’re left with raw meat packaging waste, raising the question of how to safely dispose of the containers, trays and plastic wrap involved. 

Food packaging is confusing (and often an environmental nightmare). However, we’ve got some top tips for feeling less guilty about those special meals and what happens after the big event. 

Why Raw Meat Packaging Is so Confusing 

Raw meat packaging will differ between a local butcher and a major supermarket. Each packaging component will also have different waste credentials, making it important to understand the different variations of the recycling sign in the UK. 

Buying bacon from your local shop could be tricky, depending on what brand you buy. 

For example, Tesco’s unsmoked bacon medallions are wrapped in transparent plastics and each component has different waste instructions. While the thin, plastic film lid is classed as “Not Yet Recycled”, the sturdier, plastic base instructs to “Check Locally.” On the whole, this packaging isn’t the most environmentally-friendly and the entire product may be non-recyclable depending on where you live. 

This branded unsmoked bacon from Naked Bacon has a piece of film, an instruction sleeve and a dark plastic tray. Like Tesco’s bacon, the thin protective film is “Not Yet Recycled.” The card sleeve is “Widely Recycled” and the tray fits into the “Check Locally” category.  

As a general rule, thin plastics are worse for the environment and are seldom recyclable. On both bacon products, the thin transparent sleeve is non-recyclable, making the product a bad buy for conscious consumers. Not to mention, these more fragile plastics fragment and cause microplastics — dangerous shard-like plastic pieces that infect our oceans. 

Thicker plastics that can be reused and disposed of easier than flimsy plastic types are a better bet. These plastics are widely used and often widely recycled — such as the plastics used to create water bottles. If a material like this instructs to “Check Locally” you should visit the Recycle Now website to find out about your council’s waste facilities. 

The BBC found that some councils are generous with what plastic packaging they accept, others accept none at all: 

Plastic packaging BBC Report

Originally posted by The BBC

Why don’t we avoid plastic packaging altogether when it comes to raw meat? Well, despite its detriment to the environment, transparent plastic has an important place in raw meat packaging due to the need for customers to be able to see the physical product. According to a study conducted by AHDB and YouGov, 29% of meat and poultry buyers say they like to see the quality of the product before purchasing. 

What’s more, it’s important that meat packaging is sealed — sometimes vacuum-sealed in the case of red meat portions such as steaks — to avoid oxygen and water vapour entering the product and discolouring the meat. 

How You Treat Packaging Matters 

If you strike gold and find fully-recyclable raw meat packaging, disposing safely of the materials doesn’t stop there. How you treat the packaging matters as recycling centres will struggle to accept contaminated products or products that have ingrained meat residue in them. It’s important for packaging to be rinsed before leaving the household so the material won’t attract vermin or damage other recycling products in the same disposal bin. 

Unfortunately, meat is one of the messiest products and leftover residue can spoil quickly — plus, raw meat residue can be hazardous to health. That’s why supermarkets continue to provide separate bags for raw meat purchases — such as whole chickens and turkeys — even though plastic bags are usually taxed. According to Gov’s carrier bag guidelines, UK supermarkets are not required to charge for plastic bags to carry: 

  • Uncooked fish and fish products
  • Uncooked meat, poultry and their products
  • Unwrapped food for animal or human consumption
  • Unwrapped loose seeds
  • Flowers 

If the supermarkets are taking extra precautions to separate raw meat packaging products at purchase, you should exercise the same precautions when disposing of such items and make sure materials are thoroughly rinsed. If necessary, you should also separate and remove films, lids and sleeves if they are not recyclable.

Can You Recycle These Raw Meat Packaging Types? 

Butchers Paper — This quaint, localised way of packaging fresh meat is unfortunately not so environmental. While you might be helping the local economy by buying produce from the high street, butchers paper can’t be recycled. This type of wax paper isn’t strong enough to withstand recycling procedures and is difficult to clean after use. However, you can still shop local and be environmental, if you remember to take your own reusable containers with you. 

Compostable Meat Trays — As you may have guessed from the title, this innovative raw meat packaging is recyclable as it’s fully compostable. However, this approach to packaging is relatively new, not yet widespread and  most major supermarkets haven’t adopted it. For commercial suppliers, our bagasse 500ml tray is a hearty example. Made from sugarcane pulp, this material is ethically sourced and easy to dispose of. It’s also suitable for both hot and cold foods. 

Soft Plastics — Thin, fragile plastics seldom spell good news when it comes to recycling. Plenty of raw meat products use thin packaging as a hygienic cover while using another form of packaging for the base. Don’t let this plastic-type put you off recycling altogether. Instead, separate them at the source. Dispose of soft plastics in general waste and place recyclable components in your recycling bin after rinsing. 

Hard Plastics — It’s no secret that plastic isn’t the most environmental material on the market. But as it’s cheap, hygienic and easy to mass-produce, it often wins in the UK’s raw meat industry. Most hard plastics have a better chance of being recyclable than soft plastics do. However, instructions will often advise you to check with your local council before assuming they belong with your other eco-friendly empties. 

Polystyrene Trays — Along with soft plastics, polystyrene trays are rarely recycled. Polystyrene is a notoriously non-recyclable, non-reusable material and can sometimes contain worrying chemicals for human consumption. Where possible, steer clear of packaging housed in polystyrene trays with thin, plastic lids. 
Card Sleeves — Branded products often have additional card sleeves, inserts and pockets where branding, information and pricing are presented. As these add-ons are made with card, there’s every chance they’ll be classed as widely recyclable, which is great news for your carbon footprint. However, raw meat packaging is never solely made with card and so from this perspective, it doesn’t make branded products necessarily better for the environment than own-brand alternatives.

Find out how to check if something is recyclable by getting clued up on the UK’s recycling signage. Read our blog post: The Recycling Sign on Packaging, Explained to indulge with a clear conscience.