Rethinking Recycling: Soft Plastics, E-waste, and Clever Ideas for Programme Success

January 2022

The UK moves to introduce ambitious future recycling targets.*

Recycling, at any level, household or commercial, has a positive impact on the planet. Responsible for saving energy, protecting the environment and conserving natural resources, recycling is key to achieving a greener future and a healthier Earth.

In support of recycling week, we explore what’s new in recycling, common waste types collected by our customers, and how they are implementing clever ideas, through personalisation, to create successful recycling programmes.

What’s New?

The recycling landscape in the UK is ever-changing as society becomes more environmentally conscious, and new processes and facilities allow for a wider variety of recyclable materials.

Soft Plastics
Soft plastics are a variation of plastic that, until recently, have been hard to recycle. Plastic films, yoghurt lids, crisp packets and fruit packaging all classify as soft plastics, but a rule of thumb for defining the material is whether it scrunches. Following this guidance, yoghurt pots, plastic tubs and caps are not soft plastics.

With commercial collections available through schemes such as Veolia’s Procycle, soft plastics, crisp packets, and sweet wrappers are an increasingly popular waste stream for businesses to collect and recycle, enhancing their company's sustainability credentials.*

Commercial waste and recycling contractors are adding soft plastic recycling to their service lists, along with plastic toys, hard hats and goggles.*

For consumers, soft plastics are now available for disposal at all large Tesco stores. The move, which has been regarded as successful by 85% of shoppers, expects to collect more than 1000 tonnes of recyclable soft plastics annually.*

The service is also available at 1500 Co-op stores and will be available at 800 more by the end of 2021.* Equipped with information and guidance on what soft plastic packaging is recyclable , the the scheme works in conjunction with their plastic reduction plan, which has already removed 331 tonnes of plastic packaging from fresh fruit and veg.*

Asda unveiled a similar scheme in 2019 when creating their first sustainability store. As part of its plastics reduction strategy, the store implemented refill stations, the removal of outer plastic packaging and recycling facilities for the difficult to recycle items not yet available through kerbside collection. Currently accepting soft plastics, plastic toys, cosmetic containers, and toothpaste tubes, among others, Asda expects the initiative to save one million pieces of plastic annually.*

PPE

With masks and gloves filling everyday lives and the temporary abandonment of reusable cups, the pandemic is responsible for an influx of waste.

But, as we return to ‘normal’, recycling companies have been creating innovative processes to aid PPE disposal. Rather than the current process of incineration or landfill, a new service, ran in partnership with Wilko, oversees the recycling of used disposable masks. Seeking a sustainable solution to the PPE waste increase, the scheme breaks the face coverings down into raw fibres before repurposing the material into other products. After a successful trial run, Wilko is extending the scheme to 150 stores. The store estimates it will recycle 400,000 face masks, removing an estimated total of 966kg of material from the environment.*

Plastic Bottles Remain a Top Item for Commercial Collection

With an estimated 13 billion plastic bottles disposed of each year, plastic bottle waste streams remain a popular choice in the UK alongside glass, paper, food, metal, card, and wood.*

Frequently and easily collected by waste management companies, recycling plastic bottles is environmentally beneficial and lessens the demand for virgin plastic.

Common Waste Types and Clever Ideas for Recycling Programme Success

Recycling can be single or multi-stream, depending on the recycling infrastructure available in the area and the company's recycling needs. Adapting and personalising products to meet their individual recycling needs, many of our customers create innovative and clever solutions for recycling streams.

E-waste and Batteries
As the digital age grows, e-waste is rapidly becoming the fastest-growing recycling stream in the UK.* Alongside batteries, e-waste can potentially cause harm if incorrectly disposed of as it harbours toxic materials and corrodes, causing fires in the recycling plants - as witnessed by Derby Council in April.* To solve this issue and provide a more sustainable alternative to e-waste and batteries, many of our customers have chosen to house individual electronic and battery waste streams for their employees and customers.

A digital developer that focuses on electrification and automation, the company utilised the customisable quality of the Nexus 140 range to create an eye-catching waste system with clear signage for individual streams to minimise errors.*

The East of England Co-op installed a similar feature to their Nexus 100 Recycling Station, adding a battery waste stream alongside a stream for plastic bags and other plastics.

Other customers, with a lesser requirement for e-waste and battery recycling or less space available to house containers, often opt for an alternative solution and tend to find their answer in the C-Thru™ 10L Battery Recycling Bin.

Since the pandemic, an innovative adaption of these bins is to function as PPE waste containers - C-Thru 15L PPE Waste Bin.

Coffee Cups and Cup Residue
Ploughing through 2.5 million coffee cups annually, coffee cup recycling and cup residue collection is a frequently sought waste stream.*

When purchasing the Nexus 100 Cup Recycling Station, Lancaster University personalised the product to collect coffee cup lids, coffee cups, and the remnants of drinks in one unit.

The side pods on the Nexus 100 Cup Recycling Station minimise the risk of cross-contamination by providing a facility to empty the liquid prior to disposal.

As contaminated recycling gets rejected to landfills, the side pod reduces waste disposal costs and reduces the need for landfills.

Unique Waste Requirements Need Unique Solutions

Waste stream needs differ across all businesses, and some require a unique solution to waste management. Lowering waste collection costs, opting for individual waste streams is a cost-effective option if there is a large production of a particular item.

Coffee Pods
With collection available through TerraCycle and Podback, coffee pod recycling is a unique but growing waste stream.

Personalising a Nexus 30 Recycling Bin, Boldgate Commercial Services added clear and bright signage to highlight the function of the waste stream.

Used Pens and Plastic Bottle Tops
Accord Healthcare Ltd opted to adapt a C-Thru 5L and a C-Thru 15L to their needs. Available with options for a funnel top or open aperture, Accord Healthcare Ltd added personalised graphics onto the polycarbonate bodies to highlight each waste stream and minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

Soft Plastics: Crisp Packets
With the average UK resident getting through 209 packets annually, crisp packet recycling is a growing trend and, defined as a soft plastic, is available for collection through most commercial recycling contractors.*

Why is Personalisation Important?

Personalisation and clear graphics play a crucial role in the success of recycling diversion rates. Frequently adopted by customers, personalisation can highlight the function of each stream or reinforce public messaging.

By creating a custom graphic, message or text, the personalisation provides consistent standards, emphasises non-standard materials and increases visibility.

The Future

With the UK itching to achieve its zero waste target by 2050 and its intention to implement ambitious new targets and milestones, recycling will play a massive role in the fight for a greener, more sustainable future, continuing to provide alternative and environmentally viable solutions to natural resource consumption.

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