What Packaging is Recyclable?
24 August, 2023 by
What Packaging is Recyclable?
Glenn Izard

What is Recyclable Packaging and Which Recyclable Packaging Should I Choose?

In an era marked by heightened environmental awareness, the role of packaging has evolved from mere protection and presentation to a pivotal component of sustainable practices. Recyclable packaging has emerged as a powerful solution to address the environmental challenges posed by packaging waste. This blog post delves into the realm of recyclable packaging, exploring its significance, benefits, and the considerations that guide the selection of the most appropriate materials.

Understanding the Significance of Recyclable Packaging

Recyclable packaging holds the promise of reducing the environmental burden associated with packaging waste. As traditional waste disposal methods have led to overflowing landfills and plastic pollution, the concept of recycling packaging materials stands as a beacon of hope. It offers a way to extend the lifecycle of materials, conserve resources, and minimize the ecological footprint of packaging.

The Role of Packaging in Sustainability

Packaging plays a critical role in the journey from production to consumption, but it's equally vital in the post-consumption phase. Recyclable packaging aligns with the principles of the circular economy, where resources are used efficiently, and waste is minimized. By choosing packaging materials that can be recycled and reused, businesses contribute to a more sustainable future while addressing the growing concerns of environmentally conscious consumers.

As we embark on this exploration of recyclable packaging, we will delve into the various types of recyclable materials, examine the factors that influence the choice of materials, and provide insights into making informed decisions that align with the principles of sustainability. Join us as we unravel the world of recyclable packaging and its role in shaping a greener, more responsible packaging landscape.

Demystifying Recyclable Packaging

Defining Recyclable Packaging: What Does it Mean?

Recyclable packaging refers to materials used to encase products that can be collected, processed, and reprocessed into new products after their original use. These materials are chosen for their ability to maintain their structural integrity through recycling processes, allowing them to be transformed without significant loss of quality. Understanding the key elements that determine whether a packaging material is truly recyclable is essential for making informed decisions about sustainability.

Differentiating Recyclable, Biodegradable, and Compostable Packaging

While recyclable packaging focuses on the reprocessing of materials, it's important to differentiate it from other environmentally friendly packaging options. Biodegradable packaging refers to materials that break down into natural elements over time, but this process may not always align with the timeframe of waste management systems. Compostable packaging is designed to decompose in specific composting conditions, which may not be available in all waste processing facilities. By clarifying these distinctions, you'll gain a clearer understanding of the role recyclable packaging plays in the spectrum of sustainable solutions.

As we move forward, we'll explore the advantages and challenges of recyclable packaging, shedding light on its potential to reshape the way we approach packaging design and consumption.

Benefits of Recyclable Packaging

Environmental Benefits: Reducing Landfill Waste and Resource Depletion

Recyclable packaging stands as a formidable ally in the battle against excessive waste generation. By diverting packaging materials from landfills, we decrease the strain on these already overburdened sites. Additionally, recycling packaging materials like paper, glass, plastics, and metals reduces the demand for virgin resources, such as timber, minerals, and petroleum, which are often used to create new packaging. This resource conservation contributes to the preservation of ecosystems and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with raw material extraction and production.

Economic Benefits: Cost-Effectiveness and Resource Conservation

Beyond its ecological advantages, recyclable packaging offers compelling economic incentives. Manufacturers can potentially lower production costs by using recycled materials, which require less energy and processing compared to virgin materials. Furthermore, a well-established recycling system can create job opportunities in collection, processing, and remanufacturing sectors. By integrating recyclable packaging into business strategies, companies can align economic success with environmental stewardship.

These interconnected environmental and economic benefits underscore the importance of considering recyclable packaging not only as a responsible choice but also as a catalyst for positive change in both consumption patterns and business practices.

Types of Recyclable Packaging

Paper and Cardboard Packaging: Advantages and Considerations

Paper and cardboard are among the most commonly recycled packaging materials. They are biodegradable, renewable, and easily recyclable. However, factors like contamination, moisture, and complex design can hinder the recycling process. Understanding the proper disposal and recycling guidelines for paper-based packaging is crucial to maximize their recyclability.

Glass Packaging: Recyclability and Energy Savings

Glass packaging is endlessly recyclable without loss of quality, making it a sustainable choice. Recycling glass saves energy and reduces the need for raw materials. However, transportation and breakage during collection can pose challenges. Proper separation and collection methods are essential to maintaining the integrity of the glass recycling stream.

Plastic Packaging: Sorting through Different Types and Recycling Challenges

Plastic packaging presents a complex landscape due to the variety of plastic types with differing recyclability profiles. PET, LDPE and HDPE plastics are more widely recycled, while other types can face challenges due to limited recycling infrastructure and contamination issues. Recent innovations in plastic recycling processes are offering new possibilities for addressing these challenges.

Metal Packaging: Aluminum and Steel Recycling Processes

Metal packaging, particularly aluminum and steel, is highly recyclable and retains its quality through repeated recycling. The energy saved by recycling metals is substantial compared to producing them from raw materials. The ease of metal recycling is largely attributed to the well-established collection and processing infrastructure.

By exploring the recyclability of different packaging materials, you'll gain insight into the unique considerations each type presents. This understanding will empower you to make informed choices when selecting packaging materials that align with your sustainability goals.

Factors Affecting Recyclability

Design Considerations: How Packaging Design Influences Recyclability

The design of packaging plays a pivotal role in determining its recyclability. Elements like material compatibility, ease of disassembly, and labeling for proper disposal all impact how effectively packaging can be recycled. Thoughtful design can minimize contamination and facilitate the sorting process, increasing the likelihood that packaging materials will find their way into the recycling stream.

Contamination Issues: Keeping Packaging Waste Streams Clean

Contamination, both at the consumer level and during collection and sorting, poses a significant challenge to efficient recycling. Mixing non-recyclable materials with recyclables can degrade the quality of recycled materials and disrupt recycling processes. Educating consumers about proper disposal practices and improving sorting mechanisms are crucial steps in addressing this issue.

Local Recycling Infrastructure: Understanding Your Area's Capabilities

Recycling capabilities vary widely based on geographical location and local recycling facilities. The availability of collection programs, recycling centers, and processing technologies can influence the types of packaging materials that are effectively recycled. It's important to understand your community's recycling infrastructure to make informed choices about the packaging materials you use.

Navigating these factors requires a comprehensive understanding of the intricate relationship between packaging design, consumer behavior, and recycling systems. By taking these considerations into account, you can contribute to the creation of a more efficient and effective recycling process.

Choosing the Right Recyclable Packaging

Assessing Your Product's Needs: Fragility, Shelf Life, and Transportation

Selecting the appropriate recyclable packaging begins with understanding the specific requirements of your product. Consider factors such as fragility, shelf life, and transportation needs. Balancing these elements with sustainability goals ensures that your chosen packaging not only protects your product but also aligns with your commitment to reducing environmental impact.

Matching Packaging Types to Recyclability Goals

Different products benefit from different packaging materials. Understanding the recyclability of various options—whether paper, glass, plastic, or metal—and matching them to your sustainability goals is a critical decision-making process. By choosing materials with established recycling pathways, you contribute to a smoother recycling process and a reduced ecological footprint.

Case Studies: Examples of Brands Effectively Using Recyclable Packaging

Examining successful examples of brands that have embraced recyclable packaging provides valuable insights. Case studies highlight innovative packaging solutions that consider both practicality and environmental impact. By drawing inspiration from these examples, you can discover creative ways to integrate recyclable packaging into your brand strategy.

Making the right choice in recyclable packaging involves a delicate balance between functionality, aesthetics, and environmental responsibility. Armed with the knowledge gained from this section, you'll be better equipped to make packaging decisions that harmonize these elements seamlessly.

Consumer's Role in Recycling

Proper Disposal and Preparation of Recyclable Packaging

As consumers, our actions significantly influence the success of recycling efforts. Properly disposing of recyclable packaging by following local guidelines and separation practices is essential. Rinsing containers and removing contaminants before recycling helps maintain the quality of recycled materials and supports efficient processing.

Raising Awareness: Educating Consumers for Responsible Recycling

Educating consumers about the importance of recycling and the proper methods of disposal is crucial for promoting responsible behavior. Brands and organizations can play a pivotal role in raising awareness through educational campaigns that highlight the impact of recycling on the environment and provide clear instructions for recycling different types of packaging.

Reducing Packaging Waste: Adopting Minimalism and Package-Free Options

Beyond recycling, adopting a sustainable lifestyle involves reducing overall packaging waste. Embracing minimalism and seeking package-free alternatives contribute to lessening the demand for single-use packaging. This section explores ways consumers can make conscious choices to minimize their environmental footprint and encourage a shift toward more sustainable packaging practices.

Understanding the role of consumers in the recycling process empowers individuals to make meaningful contributions to environmental conservation. By incorporating responsible recycling habits and advocating for change, consumers become agents of positive transformation in the realm of packaging sustainability.

Challenges and Future Outlook

Current Challenges in the Recycling Industry and Packaging Design

While recyclable packaging holds immense promise, it's important to acknowledge the challenges that exist. Issues such as inadequate recycling infrastructure, limited consumer awareness, and the complexities of mixed-material packaging pose obstacles to achieving optimal recyclability rates. Addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts from industries, governments, and consumers alike.

Innovations in Sustainable Packaging: Bioplastics, Smart Packaging, and More

The future of packaging sustainability is marked by ongoing innovation. Bioplastics derived from renewable sources, smart packaging that monitors freshness, and advancements in recycling technologies are reshaping the landscape. Exploring these innovations sheds light on the potential for overcoming current limitations and revolutionizing the way we approach packaging.

Collaborative Efforts: Industry, Government, and Consumer Roles in Driving Change

Creating a circular economy where packaging materials are consistently recycled and reused demands the joint efforts of industries, governments, and consumers. Legislative initiatives, industry collaborations, and informed consumer choices all contribute to a sustainable packaging ecosystem. By understanding the roles each stakeholder plays, we can collectively work towards a future with reduced packaging waste.

Reflecting on the challenges and innovations in sustainable packaging, this section provides insight into the dynamic nature of the field. By actively engaging in efforts to overcome challenges and embracing new ideas, we can anticipate a future where recyclable packaging becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Practical Tips for Sustainable Packaging Choices

Quick Reference Guide: How to Identify and Choose Recyclable Packaging

This practical guide offers a step-by-step approach to evaluating packaging materials for their recyclability. Learn how to identify different types of packaging, understand recycling symbols, and assess the ease of recycling for various materials. Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently make choices that align with your sustainability goals.

Do's and Don'ts: Best Practices for Maximizing Packaging Recyclability

Discover a set of actionable do's and don'ts that streamline your packaging decisions. Learn about effective practices such as removing labels before recycling and avoiding excessive packaging, as well as pitfalls to avoid, like placing non-recyclable materials in the recycling bin. Following these guidelines ensures that your efforts toward sustainable packaging have the intended impact.

As you delve into the practical tips provided in this section, you'll gain the tools needed to navigate the complex world of sustainable packaging with confidence. By applying these recommendations, you can contribute to a more sustainable and eco-conscious future.

How to test if cardboard is recyclable

Most paper and cardboard is recyclable, it's a commonly known fact that paper goes into the recycling bin and pretty much all of it will find its way into a recycling process to reappear back as recycled paper or cardboard products. However, not all paper and cardboard is recyclable. If the cardboard has been laminated with a plastic film it is extremely difficult to delaminate the two and neither can be recycled so both get discarded as waste.

That raises the question how do I tell if paper or cardboard is recyclable? Well, the quickest method is to drip some water on it and leave it for a while. If the water soaks into the paper you know it hasn't got a plastic coating on it, so thumbs up it's good to go. The problem comes when it has a high coverage of print on it, a varnish, or if it has been pressure sealed. Print, varnish, and pressure sealing is usually water resistant so the water won't soak in, but it is ok to recycle because the print and varnish gets washed out in the recycling process.

So what's the next test? Well if the water test fails then the next test is the tear test. What you are looking for here is to test if the cardboard has a plastic coating. The thing about a plastic coating is it doesn't tear easily, so the test is to tear the cardboard carefully and slowly. If when tearing the cardboard you can see a very thin stretching film that resists slightly before breaking, there is a good chance that the cardboard has a plastic film laminated to it and therefore can't be recycled. If you are testing thicker corrugated cardboard that is difficult to tear, try pulling off the layer of paper on the printed side and tear test just that piece.

Here's the simple two step test to find out if cardboard is recyclable

  1. Step 1: Drip water on it, if it soaks in you're good to go, it's recyclable. If not head to step 2.
  2. Step 2: Try tearing it carefully, if it seems to have an extra layer on top that doesn't tear easily it's not recyclable, if not, it is recyclable.

How to know which plastic packaging is recyclable

Knowing which plastic packaging is recyclable is a bit more difficult than finding out if cardboard is recyclable. 

  • Air Pillows that are used for void filling are usually fully recyclable. Some do have an extra air barrier in the film but this doesn't cause an issue for recycling.
  • Bubble Air Packs that are used for protecting items like laptops are a bit questionable. Some cheap imported air packs are made from unrecyclable plastic so look out for the recycling class 4 logo that ensures they are made from LDPE.
  • Poly bags are almost all recyclable, the ones to look out for are retail display bags.
  • Retail display bags that clothing is often packed in and flower wrap are mostly made from polyprop which is difficult to recycle. You can tell these by their crinkly crisp feel when you crumple them.
  • Pallet wrap usually is easily recyclable.
  • Mailing bags usually are easily recyclable.
  • Jiffy bags can't be recycled easily unless they are bubble mailers you can tear the plastic bubble wrap out of the inside. If you can do this both the paper and plastic can be recycled but if they are stuck together then you can't.
  • Strapping is a bit questionable. Green strapping often can be recycled as it is usually made from PET but other strapping is difficult as it is made from polyprop the same as retail display bags.
  • Plastic tape is not recyclable, there are so many different types that you can't effectively segregate them so it all ends up in trash.


Recyclable packaging is a pivotal gateway to a more sustainable future, offering the potential to significantly reduce waste, conserve resources, and reshape our approach to consumption. Throughout this journey, we've explored the intricacies of recyclable packaging, from its definition and benefits to the challenges it faces and the role each stakeholder plays in driving change.

Recap of Key Points: Benefits of Recyclable Packaging and Informed Choices

We've highlighted the environmental and economic advantages of recyclable packaging, emphasizing its potential to revolutionize industries and contribute to a healthier planet. By making informed choices, both as consumers and businesses, we can collectively pave the way for a more sustainable and responsible future.

Empowering Change: Your Role in Shaping the Future of Packaging Sustainability

The responsibility of creating a more sustainable world rests on the shoulders of every individual, organization, and industry. Your decisions—whether as a consumer making recycling a habit, a business adopting innovative packaging solutions, or a policy-maker driving regulatory change—contribute to the momentum of positive change. As we conclude this exploration, remember that each step you take towards embracing recyclable packaging is a step towards a greener, more resilient future.

What Packaging is Recyclable?
Glenn Izard 24 August, 2023
Share this post

Need to speak to someone about the packaging products and solutions in this blog post?  Get in touch with our friendly and experienced team.

Speak to an Expert