Press release 2015-12-12

Dirty plastic containers hamper our sorting efforts

Ice cream packages, plastic bags, sour cream cans and toothpaste tubes. We bring home large quantities of plastic packaging every year, but we need to be better at sorting them.

Last year over 300 million tons of plastics were produced worldwide, out of which a significant part goes into plastic packaging. In total, eight per cent of the world's oil goes to plastic production. By recycling more plastics we can reduce oil use, as well as both carbon emissions and the need for waste treatment.

But in order to recycle more plastics we need to increase our collection efforts. Today about 40 percent of all plastic packaging goes into recycling. By 2020, the number must go up to at least 50 percent.

– Increased collection is dependent on the consumers’ willingness to sort out plastic packaging at home. Therefore, it is important to understand what barriers the households experience in the sorting process and what they need in order to increase their sorting, says Anna Fråne, project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

Using the city of Jönköping as a pilot municipality, IVL has conducted random sampling, questionnaires and interviews, and compiled the results of the study with the following conclusions:

  • Plastic packaging is often perceived as sticky and difficult to store before recycling.
  • Households are unsure if they need to clean the plastic packaging before recycling.
  • A lot of plastic packaging is perceived as difficult to separate as they consist of different materials.
  • Many households do not distinct between plastic containers and other plastic materials.
  • More people could sort better if they had smart collection solutions in the kitchen.
  • Plastic bags are in the four pilot areas in Jönköping sorted at a much lower extent than other types of plastic, even though they accounted for the largest proportion of plastic packaging.


So, are you to clean the plastic packaging or not?
– Clean them for your own sake, if it makes it easier to store them. But dirty plastic packaging doesn’t hinder the recycling itself, says Anna Fråne.

The project was carried out by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Envir AB and Tapper Consulting AB. It was co-financed by the Plastic Circuit's Foundation for Research and the IVL Foundation.

Read the report in Swedish here.

For more information, please contact Anna Fråne.