I live in the UK and do most of my groceries shopping online. At the same time I collect my order I can also hand back to the driver all carrier bags from my previous order (which is great).

Some items like cereals, clearly indicate that the plastic packaging can be recycled along with carrier bags:

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But most of them either don't or have this sign:

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Example of such items:

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Question: am I right to recycle these plastics along with carrier bags or am I doing more harm than good?


I haven't been able to find a resin code on the carrier bags but I have reason to believe it is ♶:

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Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7516859.stm

Some relevant recycling symbols:

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Source: https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-knowledge/packaging-symbols-explained

  • I had read the question several times not really understanding what is going on here. Am I to understand that it is so common in the UK that food items are delivered in plastic bags, that food 'manufacturers', knowing that, therefore print these labels on their individual products? What a horrible idea.
    – user2451
    May 3, 2019 at 12:04
  • @JanDoggen Apologies if there was any confusion. When delivering food, drivers will usually take back your carrier bags. Some items (such as the plastic container for cereals) cannot be put in the regular recycling bin but can be handed back to the driver along with the carrier bags (as indicated in "recycle at larger store" symbol). My question is wether the same logic could be applied for other kind of plastic containers. Based on the resin code, can one reasonably assume that these items can be recycled along with carrier bags? May 3, 2019 at 19:50

1 Answer 1


Short answer: no, you can't assume anything. Food packaging can be pretty much any type of plastic, some of which are totally unrecyclable by their chemical nature.

It's possible that there may be some other use end use for nonrecyclable plastic - being shredded and incorporated into other materials for instance. Supermarkets and other businesses are continually looking into ways to make income from waste materials.

The other thing to note is that, the labels indicating recyclability themselves are not reliable. Which? did a survey on this (reported here).

As to whether you're doing more harm than good, that depends to some extent on what the supermarket does with their returned plastic bag waste stream, but in general anything that doesn't belong in a waste stream is contamination. It will either have to be separated out or it will reduce the value of the waste stream. My guess would be that's what's happening here: someone (?the driver?) will be taking everything that isn't actually plastic bags out of the plastic bag waste stream and the rest will be going to landfill/incineration.

TL;DR: only recycle what you know can be recycled where you know it can be recycled. Everything else is contamination.

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