Recycle Week

Our first Recycle Week happened between the 7th and 11th of March, 2022 and there'll be many more to come!

For this week we have gathered plenty of question and answered as many of them as possible. All the answers and questions are provided in either a written or video format. Please check them out and discover about how we deal with waste on campus as well as information on plastics and plastic recycling at The University of Manchester.

If you have any questions of your own that we haven't already answered, get in touch with us at

Questions asked by students and staff at The University of Manchester

On Campus

  • Foil, plastic & latex balloons are all dangerous to wildlife and our environment why, are they not banned on campus?

There is not a specific policy regarding balloons however the use of balloons is discouraged as is the use of helium which is a finite resource. The University does not use balloons at graduation or University events. We also do not allow the florist who comes on to campus to sell balloons.

Alison Shedlock, Assistant Director of Estates & Facilities – Head of University of Manchester Campus Services

Off Campus

  • What really happens to the soft plastic I am now putting in the recycle schemes recently started by several supermarkets? Is it really recycled in the UK?

Co-op rolled-out soft plastic recycling units to around 2,800 of its stores last year, providing a disposal route for materials which are unlikely to be collected by UK councils, including: crisp packets, bread bags, single-use carrier bags and bags-for-life, lids from ready meals and yogurt pots, biscuit wrappers and pet-food pouches.

It means that all of Co-op’s own brand food packaging is recyclable, and the scheme is also designed to reassure people that the soft plastics collected will be recycled in the UK rather than flooding land-fill sites, going to incineration or, being shipped overseas.

Soft plastics collected at the Co-op are sent to our recycling partner, Jayplas, near Birmingham. They are sorted by near infrared separation into PE, PP and mixed plastics to turn into useful secondary products. The PE is made into bags and sacks in the UK. The PP is extruded into pellets which are used by manufacturers of rigid plastics for use in items such as cases for extractor fans and hand dryers, buckets and rigid stacking crates.

Rob Thompson, Packaging Manager at The Cooperative

  • Why can’t we just ban single use plastic? What are the barriers for doing this? Lack of alternatives?

While going plastic free may, on the face of things, seem the right thing to do, changes have consequences, both intended and otherwise. Co-op is committed to the elimination of unnecessary plastics, and this is balanced against the need to also minimise, for instance, food waste.

We think a better approach is to embrace circularity in plastics, allowing materials to be seen as a resource, and recycled and reused.

Rob Thompson, Packaging Manager at The Cooperative

  • Supermarkets are still using massive amounts of plastic packaging for convenience, especially for fresh goods. Are there ways of getting them to reduce this by policy?

Co-op is committed to the elimination of unnecessary plastics. And has always been at the forefront of removing hidden plastic and unnecessary packaging. To name but a few this includes removing plastic stems from cotton buds before any other retailer more 14 years ago, banning microbeads and, removing black (so called ‘vanity’) plastic from shelves in 2019. It was also the first retailer to remove polystyrene pizza boards, and replace them with recyclable material.

In May 2021, Co-op unveiled its new ten-point climate plan which sets out a blueprint for the retailer to achieve net zero for its direct and indirect carbon emissions by 2040, including offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions of Co-op products and services – Co-op already sources 100% renewable electricity to run its stores and offices. Co-op also pioneered compostable carrier bags to eliminate its use of single-use plastic bags.

There are voluntary agreements such as the UK Plastics Pact which are providing guidance on the types of products that require plastic packaging, and those which don’t.

Some problematic items such as straws and stirrers have already been banned, and there are plans to further roll out the measures already implemented under the EU Single Use Plastics Directive in the UK. A tax comes into force in April 2022 which will incentivise at least 30% recycled content in plastics.

Finally, extended producer responsibility will come into force in 2024 designed to ensure those placing packaging on the market will be required to pay for the full net cost of its recovery, further helping to drive hard to recycle materials out of the market.

Rob Thompson, Packaging Manager at The Cooperative

  • Why is Government not imposing a ban on plastic for some uses? E.g. the wrapping of some vegetables & the use of plastic bags for some products.

Voluntary agreements will drive the majority of action in this space. Changes have consequences, both intended and otherwise and for some products using plastic reduce food waste, which is a major contributor to climate change. We would like to see Government mandate kerbside collection of all plastics by councils, and the work we are doing to collect soft plastics will prove that this is viable. The One Bin project at the University seeks to demonstrate that all plastics are capable of being identified, sorted, and cost effectively recycled, and we have been supporters of that project since it started.

Rob Thompson, Packaging Manager at The Cooperative

  • Why can France ban plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables, but the UK can't?

Long answer short, there is no clear answer to this question. It’s very likely that there are many reasons as to why we can’t follow in France’s footstep to eliminate single-use plastics in supermarkets including cultural, technological, practical and economic differences. Some of the major supermarkets in the UK are taking steps to reduce plastics within their stores and their government plans to introduce a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic in April 2022. This will equate to £200 per tonne.

In 2022, a new government regulation in France was rolled out to ban plastic packaging for over 30 different fruits and vegetables with the hope to prevent 1 billion pieces of unnecessary single-use plastic going to landfill annually.

This currently doesn’t cover larger packs, chopped, processed or more fragile produce. However, their plastic packaging will be phased out by 2026 and help France reach their target of eliminating single-use plastics by 2040.
Cherry tomatoes, green beans and peaches will have their packaging phased out by 2023 and endives, asparagus, mushrooms and some salads by 2024. More fragile fruits including berries should see their packaging disappear by 2026.

Spain announced that it will introduce a ban on the sale of fruit and vegetables in plastic packaging from 2023 to allow business to find alternative solutions.

Issues and criticisms have arisen from some people because of this phase-out, and the speed of the phase out.
- Other types of packaging such as paper and cardboard isn’t an easy replacement.
- Lots of people touch loose fruit and vegetables without buying them.
- Cost of changing can be prohibitive to some smaller companies.
- Carbon footprint of a paper bag is significantly more than a plastic bag.

Which? states that plastic packaging ‘serves a number of purposes’ which reduce the speed at which produce degrades or is damaged and allow food to look more appealing to the buyer. Though they don’t provide a source, they state that the carbon footprint of produce is more than that of its packaging, and that food waste produces triple the amount of carbon than packaging waste.

What’s happening in the UK?

Many of us are aware that supermarkets charge customers if they require carrier bags, more so for ‘Bags for Life’. Since the government introduced the scheme in 2050, the number of bags used has gone down by more than 95% in England from 7.6 billion in 2014 to around 560 million in 2019/20. A total of nearly £180m has also been raised for good causes from the revenue collected.

Single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds are no longer allowed to be sold.

Currently, central government plans to introduce a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic in April 2022. This will equate to £200 per tonne.
British supermarket also aim to reduce their plastic usage.

Asda: Have a goal to remove 3bn pieces of plastic packaging from their operations by 2025.
Co-op: Committed to eliminating unrecyclable plastic.
Sainsbury’s: Aim to reduce their use of plastic packaging by 50% by 2025.
Waitrose: committed to ensuring that by 2023, all own-label packaging will be widely recycled, reusable or home compostable.

Max Vidotto, University of Manchester Environmental Sustainability Engagement Assistant (Intern)