Know your plastic: plastic film

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the supermarket shelves it feels like EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic film. I mean, who needs bananas in a bag? They come pre-packaged by Mother Nature! Anyway, rant over. Here's a little bit of info about plastic film.

We’re going to start with a few quick stats. It’s estimated that in 2011 the UK got through 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging. That’s the equivalent of about 60,000 aeroplanes, 18,000 blue whales or over 1000 million Chihuahuas. In other words, it’s a lot of waste.

Of that plastic packaging, about 44% was in the form of plastic film, from cling film to carrier bags, freezer bags, the stuff the supermarkets like to wrap fruit & veg in (grr!), peel-off film lids on food packs, the plastic inside your cereal box… no doubt you can think of plenty more examples.

Disposing of it

The trouble is that not all kinds of plastic film are made from the same kind of plastic (find out how to tell which plastic is recyclable on our blog post). If the polymer it’s made from can’t be recycled, disposal is the only option.

If your plastic film is a type of plastic that can be recycled, there are two important things you need to do: separate the film from any other pieces of the packaging, and make sure the film is clean so that other items like paper and card don’t get contaminated in your recycling bin.

How plastic film is recycled

There are three main stages to recycling plastic film:

Shredding: this is difficult with film because it’s flexible, so it often needs very specialist equipment.

Cleaning: this stage is to make sure there’s no food contamination (which is why you should clean your plastics before putting them in the recycling) and also gets rid of any paper, fluff and dirt caught up with the plastic. The cleaning process sometimes uses large amounts of water, which obviously isn’t great for the environment.

Extrusion: the plastic is melted and any non-plastics (like fat that’s stuck to the plastic) will be removed. The melted plastic is then turned into pellets or new film.

What you can do about plastic film

Needless to say, the best thing to do with plastic film is reduce the amount that ends up in your house.

  • Remember to take your bags for life to the supermarket
  • Carry your own produce bags with you for veg and bread so you don’t end up using one of the supermarket’s free plastic bags
  • Before buying, check the back of products to see whether the wrapping can be recycled, and try to avoid buying any products wrapped in plastic film that can’t be recycled. Any non-recyclable film will have to go in your bin so that it doesn’t contaminate your recycling
  • After use, check the recycling symbols on the back of your plastic packaging and stick any that’s suitable for kerbside collections in your home recycling bin
  • For carrier bags and films that are marked “recycle with carrier bags at larger stores,” take them to the carrier bag collection point at your local supermarket or, if you’re doing your grocery shop online, give them to your delivery driver
  • Instead of cling film, opt for reusable beeswax wraps (they also look great and smell of honey!)
  • Ditch plastic sandwich bags and instead use beeswax wraps or paper sandwich bags

Keep checking our blog as we’re always adding more info about plastics, waste and recycling.