Can you recycle paper or not?

Filed in Blog by on January 13, 2010 28 Comments
FavoriteLoadingAdd article to favourites
What's the deal with paper; can you recycle it or not?

What's the deal with paper; can you recycle it or not?

Before I start, if you’re up and about this morning you can hear me on Radio Gloucestershire at 8:20am. Tune in with ‘listen live’ and I’ll be talking a load of rubbish as usual… Ok, back to today’s post.

I know it seems a daft question, but I’m really confused right now and need to put my detectives hat on.

I think I’m going to be making a couple of phone calls and I want your input too.

You see I’ve been blatantly telling people they can buy ‘own label’ butter in some supermarkets, wrapped in paper.

After using every scrap of butter and wiping the empty papers around baking trays to prevent sticking we either compost or recycle the paper.

I was standing in the kitchen waiting for something to come to the boil the other and was idly reading the back of the butter packet (as you do).

I noticed that the Sainsbury pack told me the information I would expect to see:

Sainsbury butter wrapping; paper can be widely recycled

Sainsbury butter wrapping; paper can be widely recycled

But then I picked up the Co-Op own label butter wrapper and saw this:

Co-op butter in paper - not currently recycled?

Co-op butter in paper - not currently recycled?

What on earth is going on with the Co-Op? Are they seriously saying that paper can’t be recycled or is their paper treated in some way to make it a non recyclable product?

Have you spotted any odd recycling instructions recently?

Tags: ,

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (28)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Maybe the co-op thinks that the councils don’t want buttered paper in their recycling bins, as it would contaminate the recycling. Of course, most people who care enough to read the label would probably wash and dry them first, so no butter enters the recycling chain. I wash and pop them in my compost bin. x

  2. John Costigane says:

    Confusion is still a constant factor in recycling practice with paper waste another annoying example. Waxed paper, for butter packs, can be recycled and pulped with all the rest. My limited butter use is for frying chicken, turkey recently, and making butter icing for cakes.

    There is value in finding the whole truth in the various material wastes. Contacting councils, waste processors and producer companies will help clarify the issue. MyZeroWaste would be the best place to investigate and discuss relevant aspects. As with the many other matter raised during the year, this activity could help move things forward.

  3. Ben says:

    I’m quite sure that grease in the paper spoils the recycling process by making it difficult to clean and seperate fibres, as well as stopping them sticking together when trying to turn them in to paper products. I don’t try to recycle any paper/card that has oil or food stuck to it because of this.

    Butter wrappers might not be normal paper either. They look and feel like baking paper which is coated with silicone. Not sure if this would affect recycling however.

  4. Layla says:

    In Slovenia, at least in our area, waxed paper or greasy/dirty paper is specifically NOT recycled, the brochure says so & the waste management company representatives too.

    Owner of a local paper/stationery shop said that she can only give away (for free! previously she could even get some $$ for it) non-waxed non-plasticized ‘usual’ paper (uncoated in any way) – this is recycled easiest.
    Even some printing techniques (eg laser-printed paper etc, says the book Eco-friendly design) cause difficult or almost-impossible de-inking and recycling. So, hm.

    Better to stay away from too printed paper in general, especially if it’s not usual uncoated paper which breaks down easily.
    I would trust Coop more than a regular supermarket store.
    A lot of stuff that is labelled as ‘recyclable’ here is currently not recyclable at all.
    If in doubt, double-check. Ideally, with a recycling facility. (eg paper mill that also does processing, or several of those)

  5. John Costigane says:

    @Ben: The problem is there is no clear information on this issue, just various opinions. As with other aspects, enthusiasts have to take the lead. I contacted the local council pre- Christmas just as the email was switched off there, on December 14th. Further contact will be tried later on this month.

    If newcomers to Zero Waste try their councils as well we could get a clearer picture countrywide.

  6. Jane says:

    I think there is a definite deliberate lack of information in places and not just ignorance (the real meaning of the word). We need leadership not dictatorship and information can be simplified so much so that it becomes confusing. Why aim so low?

    I believe with those new recycling symbols a certain percentage needs to be being recycled before it can be changed to ‘widely recycled’. You may or may not have a Council who does recycle this – YOU need to find out from YOUR Council (and you may well need to ask several people). It is very important that your Council gives clear instructions on what can and can’t be recycled. If you do not understand them then you should question them as this probably means that you are not the only person!

    Don’t forget that much of our waste is still sorted manually – yes that means by people. It isn’t just magicked away by the waste fairy – and I still see some most disgustingly dirty cans and jars in people’s recycling boxes.

  7. John Costigane says:

    @Jane: Fair points made there. The idea is to promote feedback as well to highlight problems, like dirty containers. I wash/drain dry all items, save paper based waste as a routine. If I knew about the problems it would be easy to spread the information locally and on the net. MyZeroWaste is an ideal location for such information.

    Commingled recycling tends to have a higher waste rate for various reasons and this has to be addressed to achieve best practice.

  8. sandy says:

    I have been composting butter papers for ever, they seem to compost, or am I just lucky?

  9. Jane says:

    @John Costigane: I agree that if we were told what the contract required eg plastic bottles flattened with lids back on or plastic bottles no lids then it would be easier. When we get written instructions which differ from a picture it doesn’t help either …and I think that pictures are most powerful. What was the answer you came to for dealing with your plastic milk bottle tops (or was it just plastic bottle tops)?

    Re the paper – there is still such a lot no matter how much I try and cut it down. If you find the prices for recycling you will find that mixed paper and cardboard commands a poor price compared to white paper and to some other recyclables – perhaps it is still in the negative – it was all so bad some time ago. This makes reuse and avoidance of the unnecessary even more important. I read recently though that the price for aluminium has gone up which should help the market and the glass recycling companies are calling out for more clear glass.

  10. John Costigane says:

    @Jane: Plastic milk tops are recyclable to GHS who make useful products from them. If left with the other plastic tops chances are that they would not be separated and recycled properly. Mrs Green has covered GHS who give money to charity for huge amounts of the tops. You can send packs of them on a regular basis and accumulate a decent number. As with some recycling you have to pay the postage.

    In commingled, the remaining tops are separated from bottles for uses unknown. From our earlier Zero Waste experience plastic caps were an annoyance since we were left with them to bin, just like the plastic windows in envelopes. As usual, the consumer was left with the waste outcome, hence the trend.

  11. Jane says:

    @John Costigane: I was rather hoping that since you are Scotland based that you had managed to find something closer to you. Yes the irritation has been being left with the lids! GHS recycles for the charity of your choice and is based in Portsmouth. The charity Gift of Sight which is linked to the Eye Department at Southampton General collects milk bottle tops.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Almost Mrs Average: I’ve been really busy so haven’t made the call yet, but I’ll be sure to report back πŸ˜‰

    @John Costigane: You’re right John, conflicting and confusing advise is one of the number 1 things that puts people off. We have to get more clarity from manufacturers.

    @Ben: I’m thinking more along the lines of putting the paper into the compost. If it’s waxed then I need to find out with what I guess so I can determine whether it will recycle or not…

    @Layla: Thanks for that Layla; it’s always interesting to hear things from your perspective πŸ™‚

    @Jane: Hi Jane, fear not, you’ll know by now I always dig deep to get the proper story πŸ™‚

    @sandy: that’s my take on it too, Sandy. I think they are fine, especially if the compost heap is working well. Do you shred yours first or put them in whole?

  13. sandy says:

    I just scrunch them and pop them in the compost bin, seems to work well

  14. Poppy says:

    @Mrs Green:

    Did your piece on the radio go ahead? I’ve been scanning through on iPlayer, but it all seems to be snow and ice.

  15. Poppy says:

    @Mrs Green:

    Oooo, found you! About 8.55 real time or 2:55 on the individual programme.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @sandy: Thanks Sandy; just wondering as someone contacted me about composting paper – he was having a problem getting it to decompose.

    @Poppy: Thanks for putting up the Link, Poppy – I tried to record it to add to the site, but it didn’t turn out well.

  17. Jane says:

    The first gives more info on paper recycling. The second about that new labelling.

    With regard to methods of recycling I am absolutely sure that recycling goes up WHENEVER & WHEREVER a Council puts a big effort into advertising their service – whatever sort it is. A lot of info out there is unclear and people are not sure where to get it from. Councils are strapped for cash and big changes often come only as part of a political changeover – they may not have given their residents new info for years! The money for the advertising is often not from an ongoing budget but from a specific grant from WRAP which has to be applied for and won. What can be recycled will differ from Council to Council with their individual contracts. People move areas and each Council does something different and may have different ways of disseminating info. Info for incomers is a brilliant idea.

    Is this a rejection of impregnated paper? Is the food contaminated paper disliked because it is a problem to recycle it or because it is unsavoury to collect and recycle and can attract vermin? I’d like to also know whether tracing paper can be recycled with ordinary mixed paper!

    What I am sure of is that we have to BUY RECYCLED to close the loop and I am conscious that I am still reducing and reusing and not buying much of that except recycled loo paper as I can’t bear the idea of trees being grown just to make paper for that!

  18. Janet says:

    Written to kent council about Tetra Pak recyling, waiting to see what they have to say.

    Maybe you could do any article about toilet paper. We are a family of 5 and use a lot of toilet paper, been thinking about reducing it and using cloths, does anyone do this?: U.S.A seems to do it..see

    I await your comments.

  19. Poppy says:


    Oh my! That’s one huge leap! I can’t believe that survey reckons an average of 8.6 sheets per trip ! No wonder the sewers get blocked! I can’t speak for Mr P, but from the time he spends in the smallest room, it’s quite possible I suppose. Master P is an in and out person – much more important things to be doing and I hope he’s more like me and uses what he needs and no more.

    Mmmm, definitely something to think about ………… thank you Janet πŸ™‚

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Hi Jane, thanks for the links. I’ve been in touch with paper chain co-op before; they are a great bunch of people. I intend to make a call to Co-Op today to find out their story.

    @Janet: Hi Janet, you know what? I have considered wee cloths myself, but really wasn’t sure whether I wanted to broadcast that in an article LOL! I wouldn’t consider it for the back end as it were, but I really don’t see a problem for a wee.

  21. Jane says:

    @Janet: 8.6 sheets per loo trip?!! You’ve got us all counting now! I wonder if we use more because it is on a roll and not in those little boxes like the hard paper used to be in? I wonder what the difference is between what you guess you use and what you actually do?

    It is great to see more paper packaging for electrical and electronic items instead of polystyrene.

  22. Jane says:

    Liquid Food Cartons (aka Tetrapak type) from Morrison’s and Tropicana both say on them that they are recyclable and use the Recycle Now new sign. The information that follows regarding where ie your Council does not necessarily collect these and you have to research where they are recyclable IS NOT CLEAR.

  23. Cartons are widely recyclable with over 86% of LAs collecting, but an easy to access point of info is our website. We’re keen that it’s as easy as possible for everyone to recycle their cartons, so do check out our interactive recycling map at, which shows you where you can recycle in your area.

    Samantha Edgar, Tetra Pak

  24. Jane says:

    Until your Local Authority starts collecting in the kerbside collection (which is what many people consider = recyclable) you will probably find that they say that they specifically do not want them in this collection. Your Local Authority may have some neighbourhood recycling banks specially for them and also some supermarkets have recycling banks for these and you need to search these out. The message on the cartons above does not adequately point this out.

    You do need to check – with your Local Authority by checking their website or by contacting them – and not just by putting them in the recycling box to see if they are taken or left. The collectors are often sub-contractors and just because they take them does not mean that they will be recycled.

  25. Mrs Green says:

    @Samantha Edgar: @Jane: Maybe a good suggestion for future packaging, might be a link to the tetra pak recycling locator for further information. Then people have the choice to contact their LA and if that is not forthcoming with recycling options, they can contact tetra pak for verification of a local recycling bank.
    Our LA do not collect from kerbside, but we have a tetra pak recycling bank a few miles away or we can take them to our household recycling centre and put them in with the cardboard (which I don’t like to do)

  26. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green: No internet access = means nothing. Elderly relatives aren’t fine with this: I am. I’ve had to try and explain and the question is: Why couldn’t it be clearer?

  27. Poppy says:


    That’s a very blanket statement Jane. My Mum is on the net more than I am and my Dad, who won’t use the net, reads every word of the papers that he buys daily.

    You seem to mistake Mrs G for some kind of Authority figure. I can assure you that whilst she has a huge amount of knowledge about these things, it is all self taught and she is battling with manufacturers and the like because she wants a better world for her family, and not because her pay packet depends on her filling her day and being able to show the boss what she has done . If you have concerns, spread the word the same as Mrs G and her family are doing. Speak to the manufacturers and the shops. Speak to your local council.

    The more people make their concerns known, the more likely it is that they will take notice.

  28. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: To my mind then Jane; if a person has no internet access, they do need to check with their local district council. This should not be problematic as all householders are given that number for this on their council tax bill.
    Maybe you could put your concerns in writing to Tetra Pak? That’s all we are doing as a family to other companies; and you never know how much difference one person can make πŸ˜‰ So if it’s something you feel strongly about, why not contact them and see if you can bring about a change?

    @Poppy: Self taught and still much to learn Poppy πŸ˜€ You’re right – the more people make their concerns known, the more this can help to bring about change. That’s why we want everyone to write to their local Tesco about the crisp packet recycling πŸ˜‰

Leave a Reply