Plastic film – often called cling film, has been around for decades, it has many uses in the kitchens all over the UK and the rest of the world. But what exactly is it? Can it be recycled? If so then how? What’s the best way to recycle plastic film? And how does plastic film compare with other plastics that are also a big focus right now?
In this article, we’re going to answer these questions and explore all aspects of plastic film recycling and what to do about it. But first, here’s the quick answer to give you some instant insight, then we’ll dive into more of the details…
Can plastic film be recycled? Newspaper bags, grocery bags, and bread packaging are among the types of plastic films that can be recycled. Plastic film products such as frozen produce, cling film and heavily printed bags should not be recycled.
Hopefully, that gives you some flavor of what types of plastic film can be recycled, but there are various nuances to this depending on what kind of packaging or use the plastic film is for. So in order to provide a more thorough answer, let’s dive into more details and offer some guidance.
What is plastic film made of?
Generally speaking, plastic film is defined as any plastic less than 1 mil thick. The majority of plastic films are made from polyethylene resin and are readily recyclable if the material is clean and dry.
Here are a wide variety of uses for plastic wrap, plastic film, and plastic packaging wraps. This is because there are a few varieties of plastic that are manufactured, and each comes with its own chemical ingredients.
Plastic bags, for example, are made out of a plastic film, large thin flexible sheets of plastic are formed into plastic carriers and other shapes suitable for commercial and consumer use.
The resin coding system was originally intended for rigid plastic containers only. However, many manufacturers put the code on plastic films too. If no resin code is printed on the plastic film or bag, the film’s application may indicate the resin type since different resins are chosen for their unique performance or observe the film’s characteristics and appearance and compare to the descriptions below.
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
- Bags – e.g. bread bags, and the thicker newspaper bags available
- Bubble wrap – which might also contain elements of nylon
Note that Bubble wrap is difficult to recycle because of shipping difficulties, so it can only be recycled in local recycling markets.
Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE)
- Bags – this newspaper bags, thin clear bags
- Dry cleaning film
Medium-density polyethylene (MDPE)
- Consumer paper packaging – thin plastic bags for toilet paper packaging, cling film for wrapping
High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
- Plastic grocery bags
- T-shirt and other garment bags
- Air-sealed bags for vacuum packaging such as duvets and pillows
What’s the difference between plastic wrap, film, and plastic bags?
Some of these are recyclable, which we’ll list for you shortly. Of those that can be recycled, there are subtle differences in their uses and therefore which entity is doing the recycling.
For plastic bags like those used for groceries, these can be recycled – providing they have not been soiled or are not wet – as this can contaminate the recycling process. These are normally recycled through consumer recycling routes. Plastic kitchen film, however, cannot be recycled.
But, plastic wrap and film, in general, can cover a wide spectrum of uses both domestic and industrial. Film can often be available in wide formats for machine and industrial wrapping. There are commercial standards that govern the recycling process for these kinds of uses.
You should consider recycling any of these items, providing they are clean and debris free. This is further emphasised by The Association of Plastic Recyclers who state that the reasons you cannot put bags into your curbside bins are that…
“While a few local programs accept bags and wraps in their curbside collection programs, most do not. Recycling markets require bags and wraps to be clean and dry to be recycled, and mixing them with bottles and containers in curbside bins generally leaves them too dirty and wet. Additionally, bags and films can jam sorting machinery, creating problems for the businesses that sort recyclables.”
Below I’ve added a list of the kind of plastics you should look to recycle and those that you should not consider recycling.
To encourage environmentally responsible packaging, it’s a good idea to include these factors where possible when making your purchasing decisions.
Plastic film that cannot be recycled will find its way to landfill or incineration plants – the latter of which do not make use of the recycled products and are also in danger of releasing toxins into the atmosphere. Here’s the list of what you should and shouldn’t recycle.
What plastic film can be recycled?
Recycle the following plastic film:
- Retail bags and grocery bags
- Thick and thin Newspaper bags
- Outer packaging from products such as bathroom tissues, paper towel rolls, napkins, diapers
- Dry cleaning bags
- Bread bags
- Bulk beverage outer packaging such as 4 pack cola bottles or 6 pack beer can packaging.
- Light and natural produce packaging and bags
- Any clean and dry bag materials that are labelled as #2 or #4 Resin code
Do not recycle the following plastic film:
- Cling film or thin food wraps
- Frozen food bags, salad bags or any pre-packaged food bags
- Excessively glue impregnated plastic film or bags, painted or heavily printed bags
Note that these are recycling guidelines only, and they may differ within your specific country, state, region or city, so it’s always best to inquire with your local authority as to what your local packaging recycling guidelines are.
What happens to bags and film you recycle
Plastic film has uses beyond the thin plastic you know it as. The vast majority of plastic bags and plastic film material that is recycled is mixed with sawdust scraps and used in the moulding of plastic lumber for use in decking, parking lot stops, and pier building materials.
Recycled plastic film is also formed into other building materials such as plastic piping, or combined with recycled plastic bottles to create mineral wool for insulation, used for plastic buckets and plastic non-food containers.
Recycling plastic film – providing it’s the right kind of film is worthwhile. Of course, there is a cost involved in the collection and process of recycling, but providing it’s financially and environmentally viable then recycling is a far better option than landfill – or incineration.
As part of my “focus on climate change” I encourage you to recycle even one extra item of plastic film each week …it might not seem like much, but imagine the difference this could actually make if we all did it.
If you’re interested in supporting the increased use of recycling and other environmental and climate change activities, then this is why the Rutakirwa Foundation was set up in the first place.
You can support the foundation by donating to our good causes and charitable work directly via our foundation donation page. Only give what you can afford, or you can donate.
This is where we put funds to good use for environmental, social, cultural and climate-related causes, for the good of everyone.
Till next week, I remain yours truly,
Serving since 28th December 2008.