Solving the bubble wrap recycling conundrum

Category: Data & Insights
Solving the bubble wrap recycling conundrum

The ecommerce industry produces tons of bubble wrap every year and it’s likely that just about all of it ends up in landfill. Sure, there are some biodegradable options that come at a cost, many don’t pay the extra. It’s said that only 6% of plastic bags and wrapping are recycled in the UK today and that needs to change.

And it’s not just bubble wrap that’s an issue, it’s the plastic that comes with everything from a loaf of bread to a crisp packet and the plastic your freezer food arrives in. It all ends up in landfill, but now Reading Borough Council are running a new trial recycling service for plastic bags and wrapping.

It’s long been a source of frustration for me just how much plastic ends up in my general waste. It’s easy to say that many plastic bags (from bread, apples etc) ‘can be recycled at larger supermarkets’, but as I get a supermarket delivery I never visit even a local supermarket, let alone the larger out of town location with recycling collection points and I can’t be alone in this.

It’s five years since I called recyclable packaging a waste of time based on the fact it’s never actually recycled and sticking a recyclable logo on packaging is just green washing by manufacturers. Nothing much as changed since then but, in the Berkshire town of Reading, things are starting to happen.

Reading Borough Council bubble wrap recycling trial

What’s needed is easy doorstep recycling and that’s what Reading Borough Council are trialling, ensuring that bubble wrap and most other plastic is diverted from landfill and repurposed as raw material for new products.

From this week, some Reading residents’ plastic bags and wrapping will be collected as part of their normal recycling collection service, inside their existing recycling bin. This is a small-scale trial and if you are involved you will have received information about the trial in the post.

The trial will be available to a small number of residents at the start, and if successful by 2024, it will expand across other parts of Reading and related Councils such as Bracknell Forest and Wokingham Boroughs.

Recycled plastic bags and wrapping can be used to make new plastic products such as plastic packaging, ‘bags for life’, boxes, bins, and agricultural and construction materials. The list of packaging included in the trial are:

  • Bubble wrap and cling film
  • All plastic bags – carrier bags, salad/fruit/vegetable bags, frozen food bags, bread bags, cereal bags, flower bags
  • Confectionary wrappers – chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes, ice cream and chewing gum wrappers
  • Foil lined packaging – crisp packets, snack packets, coffee bags
  • Plastic film and sleeves – removable film lids, plastic sleeves for bottles and jars
  • Fruit and vegetable net bags
  • Cheese, fish, and meat wrapping
  • Outer layer bags and wrapping – multipack, toilet and kitchen roll, magazine, and newspaper wrapping

To be fair, it’s worth noting that there’s a long list of plastic that Reading can’t collect as part of this trial, but their list of plastic that they can recycle is a lot lot longer than what most councils recycle rather than allow to go to landfill.

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