‘No such thing as environmentally friendly packaging,’ Recoup says

Plastics charity Recoup has taken aim at producers who switch from plastic packaging “without consideration for the effect on overall recyclability”.

Plastic packaging
(picture: Shutterstock)

The body has now released a set of case studies which it says highlights issues and demonstrates how improvements can be made.

In this, Recoup said that companies need to be aware that there is “no such thing as environmentally friendly packaging” but outlined what an “environmentally responsible” pack should look like.

This includes using the least amount of materials, minimising energy consumption, and generating the least amount of waste.

This can be impacted when packaging is assessed in isolation rather than as part of the overall supply chain, the charity added.


Recoup, which counts dozens of plastic manufacturers and recyclers amongst its members, said switching from plastic can often give consumers “a false sense of security”.

This is because such moves are made under the “guise” of plastic reduction initiatives, and the recyclability of the alternatives often aren’t considered.

Recoup has been vocal in its opposition of some initiatives in recent months. Most notable was  its criticism of Morrisons, which announced in February that it is to switch its milk bottles to Tetra Pak cartons (see letsrecycle.com story).

There is a need to make brand owners and packaging designers aware

  • Kate Bedford, RECOUP’s packaging project manager


Kate Bedford, RECOUP’s packaging project manager, explained; “There is a need to make brand owners and packaging designers aware of the factors which need to be considered when looking at changing material. Case Studies communicate what is required.”

This was echoed by Paul East, head of packaging, recycling and design, who added: “A growing number of companies are following the trend to change material types to claim improved sustainability and recyclability, however there are instances when product claims are in danger of lulling consumers into believing such switches are an improvement, when in some instances this is not the case.”

Case studies

The case studies looked at a number of examples of switches from plastic and examined mistakes made and things to consider.

One such example was meat trays. Many supermarkets looked to switch to cardboard tray with plastic lamination to keep the food fresh.

Recoup said: “The plastic tray is fully recyclable without any required consumer action; however, the cardboard tray is only recyclable if the consumer separates the plastic PE laminate from the cardboard base. On inspection and trial, the plastic laminate is very difficult to remove and separate from the cardboard tray, after food use this would be messy, wet, and especially difficult for the elderly.”

Other examples were shampoo bottles being switched to paper, but upon inspection finding an inner plastic line which was difficult to separate, thus making it unrecyclable.

Useful links

Materials substitution case study

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