Design packaging to reduce environmental impacts

How to use recycled material in your packaging


Using recycled materials in your packaging can enable you to cut costs and environmental impact. General principles you should consider include:

  • always specifying the technical performance of the recycled material over its actual origin
  • adding an element of post-consumer waste and post-industrial (offcut) material as these components count towards your waste packaging recovery targets
  • guarding against any potential contamination, especially if your business packages food
  • following the Green Claims Code to make it clear what percentage of recycled materials have been used in your packaging

Find more information about green claims.

Types of recycled materials you can use in packaging

With paper and board:

  • ensure that all corrugated packaging contains a high level of recycled material
  • specify micro-flute board for easier printing
  • use high percentages of recycled material in cartonboard in non-food applications
  • consider using a laminated cartonboard with some recycled content for packaging food products
  • ensure that food product cartonboard is tested for metal contamination

With plastic:

  • use the least amount of plastic allowed by your packaging specification
  • consider the use of co-extruded plastic bags or containers
  • try to reuse any production waste, especially spruces as these are prime materials

With glass:

  • if you're importing glass products, specify clear glass as a first option, with brown as a second, as the UK already imports large quantities of green glass
  • specify green or brown glass if your products are manufactured in the UK as this will use the supply of cheap glass waste that is constantly available
  • consider using plastic shrink sleeves or organic coatings to enable you to use any colour of recycled glass in your packaging

Advantages and disadvantages of recycled materials in packaging

You should carefully assess the use of recycled materials in your packaging design, as in some cases the positive environmental impact may be unclear.

With metal packaging, there are few trade-offs to consider with both steel and aluminium, as they are highly recyclable with no drop in functional performance.

Glass packaging can have a high percentage of recycled content with no drop-off in performance.

Paper and board packaging for non-food contact use should contain high levels of recycled content. However, paper packaging with a high recycled content may have to be heavier than packaging made from virgin fibres as they lose strength each time fibres are recycled, so more fibres are needed to achieve the same level of protection.

Traditionally, plastic packaging has had little recycled content because of the safety risks with food containers. With developments in technology, you can now use some recycled plastics.