Why Can't Black Plastic Be Recycled?

A number of retailers have pledged to remove the material from packaging.

An estimated 1.3 billion black plastic trays are used in ready meal packaging in the UK every year and according to Greenpeace UK, most of those end up in landfill or the ocean because the material is difficult to recycle.

But some brands and retailers are pledging to help change this. Quorn has announced plans to eliminate more than 297 tonnes of black plastic packaging from its supply chain by the end of June 2018. The announcement follows similar commitments from Iceland and Waitrose.

But why is the material being used in the first place and what can we do to prevent it from polluting the environment?

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Black plastic gains its colour by being dyed with carbon black pigments and the end result can’t be recycled in the UK, according to Fiona Nicholls, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

“Recycling plant sensors can’t identify and sort black plastic, so most of it goes to landfill if we’re lucky and our oceans if we’re unlucky,” she tells HuffPost UK. “That’s why it is of such high concern.”

An obvious solution may be for retailers to stop using black plastic altogether, but Nicholls explains why some big brands may be hesitant to do so. “It’s popular for aesthetic reasons, in some cases because it blocks UV light, but mainly because it’s cheap,” she explains. “It’s cheap because low value multi-coloured waste plastic can be used to produce it.”

Nicholls recommends consumers should do their best to avoid products with black plastic packaging, but concedes this is difficult at the moment as the material is so prevalent. “The real responsibility for plastic pollution lies primarily with manufacturers,” she says – and thankfully, some are making positive changes.

Iceland has already removed black plastic from some of its lines, and Waitrose has pledged to remove it from own-brand products by the end of 2019.

“We will be pushing other retailers to follow their example, campaigning to get the pigment used to make the plastic black banned immediately, and for other problem plastics like this to be quickly phased out,” Nicholls says.

“Consumers can only do so much to impact this issue through their buying decisions or waste sorting, but can have a much bigger impact by expressing their views to manufacturers, retailers and politicians. They have the power to influence product design and make doing your bit much, much easier.”