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Can Sticky Tape be Recycled?

All Sticky Tape Goes to Landfill 

Do you know when you order stuff online, and the company says all our packaging is fully recyclable? 

That's not entirely true if the box has been sealed with sticky tape, even if it's made from paper. 

Very few sticky tapes can be recycled.  It therefore goes to landfill.

Paper sticky tape may seem like an odd subject to write about but I have a reason for doing so.

Since moving away from using plastic, we're always looking for suitable packaging materials that can be recycled using curbside recycling.  One thing that's really difficult to find is recyclable sticky tape.

That may surprise you considering so many paper sticky tapes are on the market.  You may also be surprised to learn that despite many being marked as 'recyclable', they're not recyclable.

Paper sticky tape also known as packaging or masking tape is used by many businesses around the world.  Until recently, clear plastic and brown parcel tape were the only products available.

As businesses have moved towards using more environmentally friendly packaging materials, a wider selection of tapes have started being produced.  Many are made from paper which is great because it's far less harmful to the environment.

The selection of paper sticky tapes that are now being sold is extensive.  Many are coloured and/or printed and can make a parcel look far more attractive.

With it being paper instead of plastic, many manufacturers seem to have assumed that it can be recycled.

The truth however is that any product with adhesive goes to landfill.  That includes sticky tape, Post-It notes, address labels and decorative stickers. 

Since becoming aware of this I've contacted numerous companies who sell recyclable sticky tape.  I've only received one reply.      

In their response, this business told me that chemicals used at the recycling plant remove dyes and adhesive so the tape can be recycled.  Having spoken to two paper recycling plants at different ends of the country, I was told that's not true.

Having informed this company of my findings they did not respond. 

The following screenshot comes from a paper recycling plant in the U.S.  It states, "Contaminants such as paperclips, staples and tape are removed from the pulp before the recycling process proceeds."

Although I've used this article as an example, the websites of several UK recycling plants state the same.  Most local council websites also state sticky paper or any material with adhesive cannot be recycled.  
Other products that can't be recycled include painted paper or card.  That's because paint gets the paper wet and water damages the fibres.

Paper or cardboard with grease marks or food stains can't be recycled either.  Paper cups generally can't be recycled because most contain plastic. Greaseproof paper, tissues, napkins and kitchen towel also go to landfill. 

Paper coated with wax, plastic or any other coating cannot be recycled.

Not all councils in the UK can recycle shredded paper.  Those who can advise that it should be placed in a paper bag or closed box.  This prevents it from blowing around at the recycling plant and blocking machinery. 

In the UK, once domestic recycling bins have been collected the contents are sorted at a 'Materials Recovery Facility'.  It's done by machinery and by hand.  

The biggest problem they face is dealing with 'contaminants'.  These must be sorted by hand.

The most common include drinking glasses, toothpaste tubes, plastic film lids and food-stained takeaway boxes.
text about not being able to recycle sticky paperWhere paper sticky tape can be easily removed, the packaging is recycled. Where that's not possible or where a residue of adhesive is left behind, it all goes to landfill.

I did find one paper sticky tape that uses adhesive made from synthetic rubber and hydrocarbon resins.  This can apparently be recycled but after further investigation, I discovered it can only be done at a specialist recycling centre.

From the research I did to write this article, I learnt that all sticky tape is removed at sorting centres as standard.  This is because it's not possible for them to establish what kind of adhesive has been used.

The other paper sticky tape that can be recycled is 'water activated tape' or 'WAT' for short.  It's also known as gummed tape.

Once wet, the fibres of the cardboard bond with the tape to form a seal.  This sticky tape is apparently quite easy to identify because it tears away easily from packaging.  Therefore, it is generally left and goes on to be recycled. 

The problem for a small business using 'water-activated tape' is the machine needed to wet the tape is not cheap. Most start at around £1000. 

Some water-activated tapes can be moistened with a sponge and we're about to start trialling one to see what it's like.

Although recycling plants don't expect us to remove sticky materials from packaging, it would be hugely beneficial if we could.text from a council website asking people to remove sticky tape before recycling paper and cardboard

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