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Packaging, Recycling and Waste

Packaging and Recycling:


Circular Packaging:

  • In a circular economy, packaging would be re-used over and over again. Either the customer would bring and use their own packaging (such as bags, bottles, jars or containers), or the customer would return reusable packaging to the seller.
  • This type of system is already in use by Zero Waste/Refill shops around Ireland, and a ‘Loop‘ system is being trialled in the UK.
  • The recycling of packaging such as paper and plastic cannot be said to be in line with the principles of a Circular Economy, as these materials can only be recycled a few times before they become too degraded. Glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely.

How recycling Works:

  • Once the waste arrives at the material recovery facility the process starts with the sorting of materials, first by hand and then by machines.
  • Workers at the facilities are forced to sift through things like dirty nappies, mouldy food, medical waste and more. 
  • Contamination of recycling bins by these types of items can be as high as 36%.  (Source).
  • Machines sort and separate the paper, plastic and metal. (Glass is dealt with in a separate recycling stream).
  • Paper, plastic and metals are each packaged into separate bales, then sent abroad for recycling.
  • According to which is Ireland’s official guide to managing domestic waste: “The TFS office (the authority responsible for enforcement of waste shipment regulations) tracks our waste to ensure it ends up where it should”.
  • If food, nappy waste or medical waste has contaminated the bales they will be rejected at their destination.  Sometimes this results in an entire shipment being rejected.
  • Videos: Recycling in Ireland – Video.
  • Panda Recycling – Video.
  • What happens to our recycling – article from

Paper and Cardboard:

  • Paper is made up of long fibres, so every time it is recycled, those fibres will be shortened, making it harder to be recycled the next time.
  • The average number of times paper can be recycled is about five to seven times. From that point, it can be made into a paper paste and used to make things like newspaper or egg cartons. 
  • Paper recycling involves mixing the paper with water and chemicals to break it down, forming a sludge.  It is then chopped up and heated, which breaks it down further into pulp.  It is strained through screens, which remove plastic (especially from plastic-coated paper that may still be in the mixture) then cleaned, de-inked, bleached, and mixed with water.  Then it can be made into new recycled paper.
  • In many cases, paper and cardboard factories use their waste products as a source of fuel.
  • 86% of cardboard and paper in the EU is recycled, 10% is sent to landfill, and 7% is incinerated.
  • While paper is a better packaging alternative to plastic, if everything was packaged in cardboard it would mean a lot more trees would need to be cut down, resulting in massive CO2 emissions. So zero packaging (and reusable packaging) is a better solution overall.
  • Paper Recycling Video.


  • Glass can be recycled infinitely.  The glass is crushed into small pieces and any contaminants such as paper, plastic lids or corks, stones, ceramics and metals are removed.  When a fine sand has been created it is then melted down and remade into new glass.
  • Glass recycling video.


  • Metals such as aluminium (drink cans), steel (tin cans), copper and iron can all be recycled.
  • Metals have a high value in the recycling business and are profitable, so there is always a high likelihood that these will be recycled.
  • Larger and heavier items such as saucepans, cookware and frying pans should be brought to your nearest civic amenity site where they will processed as scrap metal.
  • Aluminium (cans) recycling – Video.


  • Tetra Paks are made up of layers of paper/cardboard, plastic and aluminium. The paperboard gives the carton its strength, while the plastic and aluminium provides a seal to protect the contents.
  • Recycling involves separating the paper from the plastic and aluminium.  The paper pulp is used to make paper products.  The plastic and aluminium component can be used to make materials for the building industry. 
  • The following video illustrates the process:  Tetrapak Recycling Video.