Wrap it up and start again – recycling plastic bags and wrapping

Until recently, recycling plastic bags and wrapping has been difficult and confusing. These plastics aren’t yet collected in kerbside recycling systems so all too often they end up contaminating recycling collections or in the rubbish bin.

To tackle this, Recycle Now and Clear on Plastics are working with supermarkets to make recycling plastic bags and wrapping easier. We can now recycle plastic bags and wrapping in most supermarkets.

My Co-op installed a recycling bin for these items a few months ago, so we bought a new bin for the kitchen just for these items. I mistakenly chose a smaller bin than the normal kitchen bin, but I now think we could swap the bins over.  You don’t realise how much plastic wrap there is in the kitchen – biscuits, crisps, bread bags, frozen food bags, yoghurt lids, cereal bags… Even if you try to buy without packaging, it is almost impossible to avoid, so the bin is bulging every week while the other one easily lasts a fortnight.

The main chore is remembering to take the bag of bags and wrap to the shop when you go. ‘Don’t forget the plastics’ is often heard as the door shuts, but once you’ve got that dedicated bin you’ve made the decision to do it!

To find your nearest location, visit the Recycle Now website.

Our website has lots of information on plastic recycling and reduction.

Plastic bags and wrapping are lightweight plastics that cannot be placed in recycling bins at home, so here’s what to do:

  • Clean it – First, rinse your packaging out.
  • Scrunch it – Now, scrunch it up tight – if it pings back, that’s a useful indicator it’s soft plastic.
  • Recycle it – Pop it into one of the soft plastics recycling units in a supermarket near you.

See what you can and can't recycle

Yes please

General

  • Thin plastic lids of all types
  • Kitchen towel, toilet roll, nappy bag, cotton wool wrappers
  • Pouches – microwave rice, pre-cooked mussels, pet food, etc
  • Fruit and veg nets, bags and wrappers
  • Plastic sauce sachets

Bags

  • Ordinary carrier bags
  • Bread bags
  • Crisps, nuts, snacks bags
  • Bags from:
    • Cereal and porridge
    • Dried goods – dried fruit, pasta, rice, sugar, pulses, etc
    • Frozen foods and ice cubes

Wrappers and film

  • Chocolate and sweets bags and wrappers
  • Biscuit wrappers
  • Cling film
  • Pizza wrapping film
  • Bread product wrappers:
    • Croissants
    • Pancakes
    • Naan bread
    • Pitta bread
    • Garlic bread
    • Fresh pasta
  • Wrappers from:
    • Cheese, pastry, cakes, Yorkshire puddings
    • Baby wipes, etc
    • Meat, poultry and joints
    • Tea and teabags, ground coffee, etc
    • Pies, pastries, sausage rolls,
    • Household textiles, scourers, rubber gloves, etc
    • Giftwrap, greetings cards, etc
  • Flower wrappers
  • Petfood wrappers

No thanks

  • Compostable carrier bags
  • Compostable and biodegradable bags and wrappers
  • Plastic bottles
  • Plastic trays

Supermarkets collect the plastic film at the front of the store and then use “reverse haulage” so that when new stock is delivered the empty lorry takes away all their plastic wrapping. The plastic is recycled at UK reprocessors, which use it to make recycled plastic carrier bags and rubbish bags.

It is estimated that 1.2 million tonnes of plastic film ends up in the UK waste stream every year with a staggering 800,000 tonnes from households. 

Please do not include bags or films in your home kerbside recycling collections as they get caught up in the machinery at the sorting plant, which causes many break downs and operational issues for the reprocessors.

Tips for recycling plastic bags and films

  • All items should be clean and free of food.
  • Tear off sticky labels where possible.
  • Compostable and biodegradable bags are not designed to be recycled. If they enter the recycling system, they can cause quality issues in the recycled material. They should be placed in your home composting bin, if you have one.