The British Sandwich Association

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Last updateWed, 17 Jan 2018 12pm

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Waste Packaging

The BSA's Waste Group has been very active on the topic of waste packaging. We've researched, discussed and visited many leading professionals in the field and teamed up with the Foodservice Packaging Association to create this concise infographic.

Nine out of ten local authorities confirm that a used sandwich box (the traditional wedge shape cardboard triangle with a plastic window) is fine to include in your recycling bin. OPRL - the On-Pack Recycling Label people - have certified the packs and approve of the use of their logo. The pack itself has been reduced in thickness over time, so much so that hundreds of thousands fewer trees are cut down each year. But packaging is a very contentious issue among consumers.

What is the role of packaging?

Packaging plays a pivotal role in the preservation of food. Think about it, if food was unaffected by ambient conditions then why would anyone go to the trouble and expense of packaging it? The simple fact is that packaging helps keep food at its best right up until it is eaten.

The packaging on a sandwich, for example is designed not only to keep it in its good condition but also fresh and safe.

In sandwich shops where they make to order, this involves little more than paper to keep your hands clean and minimal other packaging as you are likely to just head out of the shop and eat it.

If you buy a pre-made sandwich from a supermarket or sandwich bar chiller, the packaging has to do a number of different things from protecting the sandwich and helping to keep it at the right temperature to carrying all the nutritional labelling that the law requires. The most popular type of packaging here is the traditional wedge shaped ‘skillet’. These are most often made from cardboard with a thin plastic liner to prevent the ingredients leaching into the cardboard.

These cardboard skillets are fully recyclable – in most cases, all you need to do is eat (or otherwise dispose of) the food inside and to pop them in your paper recycling bin, depending on your local authority. This will then be processed just like all other paper waste. 

What other materials could be used?

Plastic-type skillets are also available – these are invariably clear and have all the nutritional and other information on a label. There are many advantages to this type of packaging and it is generally also recyclable or compostable but consumer research have shown that the cardboard skillet is the most popular.

Cardboard skillets are made from sustainable forestry as opposed to plastics which come from the petrochemical industry. This natural resource is another reason why consumers prefer cardboard – sourced from managed forestry means this is a sustainable source of material.

Why do people think sandwich packs can’t be recycled?

There is a misconception that because a cardboard pack contains a plastic window and liner that it can’t be recycled. In truth, it can. A Materials Recovery Facility which processes the contents of our recycling bins will “view” a collapsed sandwich skillet just like any other piece of paper or card and handle it in exactly the same way. Piles of paper are condensed into bales, just like hay-bales on a farm, for processing.

When a sandwich pack makes it to a bale of other mixed paper, yes it does add a tiny bit of plastic into the mix but this is less than 0.0001% of the overall mass. When recycling paper, the recovered bale is immersed in a liquid solution and pulped – like a giant papier maché. The plastic just floats off and can be skimmed off the surface before the remaining pulp is recycled – further reducing the amount of plastic in the mix.   

What should we do with our sandwich packs to ensure they’re recycled?

Empty it and bin it. Food is a big contaminant in all food to go packaging. Just leaving the crusts in, for example, means there’s more “non-paper” material – a lot more than just the plastic! Food also pulps up with the paper in processing and contaminates the resultant product.

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