The European Commission has set an EU-wide objective for all packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030. But crisp packets are a particular headache for policymakers and the recycling industry because they are so tiny and lightweight.
Walkers, Britain’s largest crisp manufacturer, announced in October it was launching a scheme to recycle the 7,000 non-recyclable crisp packets it produces every minute.
The announcement was made after the company came under intense pressure from hundreds of activists who grabbed headlines by posting their packets back to Walkers.
But achieving high recycling rates will be a tall order for Walkers. Indeed, crisp packets are so lightweight that there is no real value even in collecting them for recycling, said Delphine Lévi Alvarès, from the Rethink Plastic Alliance, a group of environmental NGOs.
“It might be recyclable but it’s not going to be recycled,” she told a EURACTIV event last year. “Light-weighting has always come at the expense of re-usability and recyclability,” which are the cornerstones of the circular economy, she explained.
Recyclers are well aware of this and some have adapted their sorting plants to be able to deal with smaller, lightweight items. However, they haven’t found an economically-viable solution yet.