Cellophane has become a generic term for a plastic film that is used as a wrapping material.
It can be found wrapped around food products, flower bouquets, and gift baskets.
Cellophane allows consumers to see how fresh their food is, and it can help control moisture in both food products and flower bouquets.
But if you’re keen on recycling, you may be wondering whether or not you can recycle cellophane.
The answer is that whether or not cellophane is recyclable just depends on what it is made of.
By that, we mean that some versions of cellophane are actually made from plastic, while others aren’t.
But how can you tell whether or not cellophane is recyclable?
And can you still dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way if it isn’t recyclable?
We’ll explain everything in this article.
1. What Is Cellophane Made Of?
Cellophane originated as a type of bioplastic made from cellulose that has been chemically altered.
Cellulose is a fiber that is found in plants, meaning that most cellophane is a plant-based material.
Most of the cellulose used to make cellophane is derived from wood pulp.
Cellophane is actually the result of efforts by numerous scientists, so its invention can’t be credited to one single person.
It originated with the creation of viscose in 1892 by two scientists. To make viscose, cellulose was treated with carbon disulfide.
The original use for viscose was to make rayon fabric. But by 1898, another scientist had found a way to make a film out of viscose, which was the basis for cellophane.
Ten years later, a French scientist had developed a machine that could produce a stronger version of this film, which he named cellophane.
The name cellophane is a combination of the words cellulose and the French word for translucent- diaphane.
To make cellophane, viscose is put through an acid bath, where it coagulates and turns back into a film of cellulose.
The film is then washed and bleached. Afterward, it is treated with glycerol in order to soften it then treated with a chemical to make it moisture-proof. Lastly, it is dried and spun onto large rolls.
Original versions of cellophane were clear, transparent, and thin. Today, it is still transparent, but it can be manufactured to have various colors and thicknesses.
It’s also important to note that cellophane is a trademark in European countries and still follows the original manufacturing process.
In 1923, the DuPont Company in the United States was granted the rights to produce cellophane as well. But, the term cellophane is a generic name in the U.S.
Under the generic name, cellophane products can be manufactured by either the original method or they can be made out of synthetic plastics – mostly polypropylene.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll use true cellophane to refer to cellulose-based cellophane, and plastic cellophane to refer to cellophane made from synthetic plastics.
2. Is Cellophane Recyclable?
True cellophane is not recyclable.
Although it is made primarily from wood pulp just like paper is, the structure and composition of cellophane make it difficult to recycle effectively.
You can’t break down true cellophane in order to isolate just the wood pulp to be used for other products made from wood pulp.
And you can’t recycle it with synthetic plastic materials because true cellophane isn’t made from synthetic plastic.
Also, the original manufacturing process of cellophane uses so many chemicals that it can contaminate the recycling stream if you try to recycle it.
Lastly, although true cellophane can’t be recycled, it is biodegradable.
If the cellophane is uncoated, it can biodegrade in as little as 2 months. If it is coated, it can biodegrade in about 4 months.
Because true cellophane is biodegradable anyway, recycling facilities don’t need to put forth the time and money to try to recycle it.
3. Are Any Types of Cellophane Recyclable?
Plastic cellophane, such as that made out of polypropylene, is recyclable.
There are a couple of reasons why this is the case.
The first reason is that plastic cellophane isn’t the only product made from polypropylene.
And while some forms of plastic aren’t recyclable, polypropylene is.
Polypropylene cellophane is recycled in the same way that other polypropylene products are.
It is cleaned, melted down, and turned into pellets or stored to be used for other products.
The second reason is that polypropylene is not biodegradable.
Recycling plastic cellophane is worth the facility’s time and money to be able to reuse it and keep it out of landfills.
However, the problem with recycling plastic cellophane is that it can be difficult for consumers to tell the difference between it and true cellophane just by looking at it.
4. How Can You Tell the Difference Between Plastic and Cellophane?
If you purchased the cellophane yourself, then the packaging should indicate what it was made of so that you can determine whether it is true cellophane or polypropylene.
But if you didn’t purchase the cellophane, there is really no way for you to tell the difference just by looking at it.
However, there are a couple of tests you can perform that can help you tell the difference.
One method you can try is to fold it. If it is true cellophane, the material will remain folded.
If it is polypropylene or another form of plastic, it will start to unfold when you let it go.
The other method you can try is burning it. For safety reasons, this should be done outside and with a very small piece of cellophane.
You should also have some water nearby, just in case.
To test it, cut out a small square of cellophane. Then use a lighter or match to burn a corner of it.
If it is true cellophane, it will burn like paper and leave behind a black residue. If it is plastic, it will melt and shrivel up instead of burn.
5. Can Cellophane Be Made From Recycled Material?
True cellophane can’t be made from recycled materials.
This is because cellophane has a unique manufacturing process that can’t be done by recycling facilities.
Although polypropylene can be recycled, we couldn’t find any evidence that says that recycled plastic cellophane exists.
6. Does Cellophane End up in Landfills?
Regardless of the type of cellophane, a lot of it does end up in landfills because people don’t know how to dispose of it.
If true cellophane ends up in a landfill, it will biodegrade eventually.
It could even biodegrade fairly quickly as long as it isn’t lodged in between other trash.
If that happens, biodegradation won’t occur at the same rate because it isn’t exposed to as many elements.
If a lot of plastic cellophane is sent to a landfill, this is a much bigger problem since plastic is not biodegradable.
7. Is Cellophane Compostable?
Theoretically, true cellophane is compostable. Plastic cellophane is not.
However, whether or not you should compost true cellophane depends on whether or not the cellophane is coated.
Some true cellophane is coated with a chemical to make it more resistant to moisture or heat. Those chemicals can harm your compost.
Unfortunately, there’s no way for a consumer to tell whether or not cellophane is coated so it’s best not to compost it.
And remember that just because it can be composted, doesn’t mean that it should be.
8. How Do You Dispose of Cellophane Correctly?
You’ve learned that plastic cellophane can be recycled, as long as you’re sure that it is indeed plastic.
Recycling is the best way to go, but remember that true cellophane can’t be recycled.
If you have true cellophane, unfortunately, you don’t have many disposal options besides just throwing it away with the rest of your trash or finding a way to reuse it.
9. Can I Reuse Cellophane?
If the cellophane was used as a wrapping material for a gift basket or flower bouquet, you could reuse it for that purpose if it is in good condition.
It’s not really a good idea to reuse cellophane that was wrapped around food products due to possible contamination.
You also shouldn’t reuse cellophane to wrap food products with if that wasn’t the original purpose of the cellophane.
Cellophane wrapped around gift baskets and bouquets may not be food-grade cellophane, so it isn’t recommended to use it for food.
10. Is Cellophane Bad for the Environment?
You may be under the assumption that because true cellophane is made from natural products and is biodegradable, it is also eco-friendly.
This is not entirely the case. Just because something is biodegradable doesn’t mean that it is eco-friendly.
And being made from natural products doesn’t necessarily mean that something is eco-friendly either.
It’s true that true cellophane is better for the environment than plastic cellophane – which is derived from crude oil.
But the process for making true cellophane uses a lot of chemicals, including carbon disulfide which is toxic.
As true cellophane biodegrades, it has the potential to release all of those chemicals into the surrounding environment.
3 Sustainable Alternatives to Cellophane
True cellophane is more sustainable than plastic cellophane.
But even true cellophane isn’t the most eco-friendly or sustainable considering that it is made with toxic chemicals and isn’t recyclable.
Here are a few sustainable alternatives to cellophane.
1. Beeswax Wrap
If you need something to wrap up food with, considered a beeswax wrap.
Beeswax wraps are food-safe and are more eco-friendly and sustainable than cellophane.
Plus, beeswax is compostable.
2. Brown Craft Paper
Brown craft paper can be used as a sustainable alternative to cellophane for wrapping up flowers.
The paper is recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable.
It is also free of chemicals, so it is considered an all-natural wrapping material.
3. Tulle Fabric
Tulle fabric can be used to wrap gift baskets instead of using cellophane.
As long as you use tulle that is made from natural fibers such as cotton and silk, it is sustainable, eco-friendly, and biodegradable.
Cellophane may or may not be recyclable depending on what it is made of.
True cellophane is made from wood pulp and is not recyclable, but it is biodegradable.
On the other hand, plastic cellophane is made from polypropylene or another synthetic plastic. It is recyclable but it is not biodegradable.
Neither one is the most sustainable, but true cellophane is the better eco-friendly choice between the two.
An even better eco-friendly choice would be to use a material that is even more sustainable and eco-friendly in place of cellophane.