If you’re eco-conscious, you’re well aware of the sheer amount of packaging materials that get thrown away by consumers.
Using recyclable packaging can cut down on this problem, and can even draw eco-conscious consumers toward businesses who make a commitment to use it.
However, some consumers have concerns that using recyclable packaging means they’ll have to pay more for products because the companies will have to pay more for it.
But is recyclable packaging actually more expensive? It just depends on the type of material.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what recyclable packaging is as well as cost comparisons for recyclable vs. non-recyclable packaging.
What is Recyclable Packaging Material?
Recyclable packaging material just means that the material a product is packaged in can be recycled when you no longer have use for it.
It is not to be confused with recycled packaging, which we’ll talk more about later.
There are a lot of different materials that are considered recyclable, but some of the most common ones are:
But not all of these materials are useful for packaging and/or shipping purposes.
For example, aluminum and steel aren’t used that much for packaging, and neither are some types of plastic.
But cardboard, glass, paper, and certain types of plastic are all used for packaging.
Glass isn’t typically used as a filler or shipping material, but cardboard, paper, and plastic are.
Specific examples of recyclable paper packaging include:
- Kraft paper
- Tissue paper
Most cardboard is recyclable, including corrugated cardboard and paperboard.
Plastic packaging that can be recycled will be labeled with a recycling symbol that has a number inside ranging from 1-7.
In general, as long as those materials are not attached to any other materials, then they should be able to be recycled.
Do note that out of those 7 numbers on plastic, only #1 and #2 are actually widely recycled.
All other types of plastic are either generally not recycled (because it’s too difficult or expensive), or they may not be accepted in all areas.
What Are Non-Recyclable Packaging Materials?
Non-recyclable packaging materials include materials that are made up of a combination of materials or are otherwise difficult to recycle.
For food packaging that is non-recyclable, the list includes but is not limited to things such as:
- Packaging that has a shiny side (e.g. chip bags, granola bar wrappers, hot dog wrappers, etc.)
- Crinkly plastic (cracker sleeves, cereal bags)
- Mesh produce bags
- Plastic coffee pods
Mail/Shipping packaging materials that aren’t recyclable include:
- Bubble mailing envelopes
- Packing peanuts
- Air bags used as a cushion in lieu of bubble wrap (although some are recyclable, look for the recycling symbol)
Is Recyclable Packaging More Expensive Than Non-Recyclable?
Whether or not recyclable packaging is more expensive than non-recyclable packaging just depends on the particular type of packaging material.
For example, a plastic bag costs about one cent to produce, whereas a paper bag costs around four cents to produce.
Paper bags are recyclable through curbside programs, but plastic bags usually aren’t.
But, plastic boxes used for packaging are actually more expensive than cardboard because they are made of thicker and more heavy-duty plastic.
Cardboard boxes can usually be recycled curbside, but not all plastic boxes can be, depending on the type of plastic they’re made of.
With popular packaging and shipping material company Uline, one 10.1 × 7.8 × 6.5″ plastic shipping tote costs around $16.
But a 10 × 8 × 6″ cardboard box from the same company costs around $0.60.
That means that you can get 26 cardboard boxes for the same price as one plastic tote.
For filler materials, a 10-pound carton of kraft shredded filler paper (which is recyclable) costs around $30.
But, a 7-cubic foot bag of packing peanuts (non-recyclable) costs around $21.
It would take a lot more shredded filler paper to cushion a cardboard box than it would packing peanuts, so the packing peanuts are less expensive in the long run.
Is Recyclable Packaging More Expensive Than Biodegradable?
This question actually causes some confusion among people.
One thing that’s important to note is that just because something is recyclable does not mean that it is biodegradable, and vice versa.
For example, a lot of plastic packaging is recyclable but it is not biodegradable.
There are new types of plastic packaging that are made from a certain percentage of cornstarch or vegetable oil.
But because of the materials that they are made from, these biodegradable plastics are not recyclable.
That means that even though biodegradable plastics may be more eco-friendly, in terms of cost they are not always better.
The best all-around choice for packaging materials in terms of eco-friendliness is paper and cardboard. They are both recyclable and biodegradable.
Cost Comparison of Recyclable Packaging Materials
The exact cost of recyclable packaging materials will vary based on the size of the material, the company that sells it, and whether or not you can buy it in bulk or on an individual basis.
But, here are some figures that can give you a rough idea of how much you can expect to pay for different types of packaging and shipping materials.
|Type of Recyclable Material
|< $1 each
|Corrugated Cardboard Box
|< $2-$3 each
|Rigid Cardboard Box
|Shredded Filler Paper
|$30-$40 for 10 pounds
|$20-$40 for 480 sheets
|$20-$30 for cases of 12-24
|Plastic Bags (Polyethylene)
|$18-$128 per carton (depending on size and quantity per carton, usually 500-count or 1,000-count)
Is Recyclable Packaging the Same as Recycled Packaging?
Recyclable packaging and recycled packaging are not the same things.
Recyclable packaging implies that the packaging can be recycled. Most recyclable packaging is still made from raw materials.
Recycled packaging implies that the packaging is made completely or partially from recycled materials.
In terms of eco-friendliness, recycled packaging is better than recyclable packaging because it is more sustainable.
Fewer raw materials have to be used in order to create recycled packaging.
Basically, recycled packaging can be made from recyclable packaging but not all recyclable packaging is made from recycled materials.
The downside to recycled packaging is that some of it is more expensive than recyclable packaging depending on the type of material.
Some types of packaging costs more to recycle than it would to produce that same packaging from raw materials, while others cost less to produce through recycling than to produce raw.
Why is Recyclable Packaging Important?
Recyclable packaging is important because if it is actually recycled, it reduces the amount of trash that goes into landfills.
A whopping 91% of packaging materials end up in landfills, and depending on what specific material it is, some of it sits there forever.
If packaging is recyclable, it can go to a recycling facility to be turned into recycled packaging or other useful products.
What is the Best Recyclable Packaging?
In terms of product packaging, glass is one the best because it can be recycled endlessly.
But it is also one of the most expensive.
But if you’re looking for packaging used for shipping, it’s hard to say which is best.
Paper, cardboard, and plastic can only be recycled a certain number of times without losing their quality.
But of the three of those, paper and cardboard are better all-around because they are the most eco-friendly and cheapest materials.
How Can I Tell If Packaging is Recyclable?
The best way to tell if packaging is recyclable is to look for the recycling symbol somewhere on the packaging.
A lot of packaging materials will have this symbol, but some of it still doesn’t. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t recyclable.
Because plastic is so widely used and there are so many different types, most plastic packaging will have the recycling symbol on it.
What you need to look for is the number on the bottom:
- #1 and #2 plastics are usually accepted curbside
- #4 and #5 plastics are sometimes accepted curbside depending on where you live.
- #3, #6, and #7 are more difficult to recycle and usually aren’t considered recyclable.
Sometimes paper, cardboard, and glass don’t have a recycling symbol on them even though they’re considered recyclable materials.
But as long as your local recycling facility accepts them, you should have no problem recycling them.
How To Dispose of Recyclable Packaging
Since recyclable packaging can be recycled, the best way to dispose of it is through your local recycling program.
You should check your city’s guidelines to see what is accepted, because some places may not accept all types of recyclable materials.
If it is accepted, you can place it in your curbside recycling bin or take it to a municipal recycling bin.
But when doing either, it’s important for you to separate it by material type first.
This will make it easier for the recycling facility to sort and process it.
Can Recyclable Packaging Replace All Non-Recyclable Ones?
It would be wonderful if all non-recyclable packaging could be replaced with recyclable packaging and theoretically, it probably could.
But in order for that to happen, companies have to be on board with using recyclable packaging, even if it does cost more.
Not all consumers are interested in recyclable packaging. Some of it could be that they think using recyclable packaging will cause the cost of the product to be higher.
But they also may not be aware of the advantages of recyclable packaging being more eco-friendly to dispose of.
With more consumer awareness and willingness to use recyclable packaging, it’s possible that it could replace non-recyclable packaging altogether.
Recyclable packaging includes materials such as paper, cardboard, glass, and some types of plastic.
Some recyclable packaging is actually cheaper than non-recyclable packaging, and some isn’t.
The cost largely depends on the size of the product, what it is made of, and how much it costs to produce it in the first place.
It’s also important to remember that recyclable packaging isn’t the same thing as recycled packaging.
Recycled packaging is usually more sustainable, but also often more expensive.
Supporting companies that use recyclable or recycled packaging, or using them for your own business can help make a difference in terms of making more eco-friendly choices.