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UK packaging recycling: still a long way to go

A new report from Which says two thirds of branded food packaging in Britain still isn’t recyclable.

The consumer group Which has carried out a new survey and discovered something truly quite shocking. Two thirds of branded food packaging in the United Kingdom is not fully recyclable, with some of the country’s leading brands on the list such as Pringles, Cadbury and Babybel.

Which analysed 89 popular brands including fizzy drinks, chocolates, crisps, yoghurts, and others and found only 34 had fully or partially recyclable packaging. What is more, 41 per cent of the items had labelling that didn’t indicate to consumers whether or not it could be recycled.

For the survey, each item’s packaging was broken down into its component parts, weighed and assessed on whether each piece could be easily recycled. The worst category by some distance was crisps, with only three per cent of the potato-based snack packaging recyclable in household collections. This included Pringles and their notoriously hard-to-recycle tube, which contains a mixture of metal, card and plastic. While the Pringles tube as a whole cannot be put in the recycling bin, the plastic lid can. On a positive note, Pringles is testing a new recycled paper tube at several UK Tesco stores, which if successful could be rolled out widely. 

34 per cent of cheese packaging was unrecyclable, with Babybell being singled out as a bad offender for recyclability due to the use of cellophane, wax and net bags. Again, the company behind the product is looking into ways to improve its rating with new packaging by the end of 2020. 

Among the chocolate snacks Which? looked at, almost a third of packaging was not recyclable. Four finger KitKats, Cadbury Bitsa Wispa, M&Ms, Cadbury Dairy Milk bars and Cadbury Twirl Bites were not recyclable in household recycling at all. Cadbury are making improvements to their packaging making them 100 per cent recyclable, which they hope to complete by 2025 alongside Mars and Nestle who have similar publicly- announced commitments.

The most recyclable category was fizzy drinks, which were found to be 100 per cent recyclable, and all 10 items Which? looked at in this category were labelled as such. 

Juice drinks were mainly recyclable in household collections, with the exception of Ocean Spray and Capri-Sun. Ocean Spray cartons are made of mixed materials that make them difficult to recycle in household collections, while Capri-Sun’s foil pouches are not recyclable.

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