Discovering whether a lunch box is recyclable is a question most people ask either because they are disposing of one or because they are purchasing a new one. When I compiled the research below I wanted to know the answer because I was doing both as I was replacing my very old plastic lunch box.
As a general rule lunch boxes made from stainless steel, glass and in some cases bamboo are recyclable. Fabric lunch bags can be difficult to recycle as they are often made from many different materials and recycling a silicone or plastic lunch box is incredibly difficult.
So as mentioned I had a very old plastic lunch box that I was gifted many years ago and although I’d had it for a long time I sadly dropped it and the corner broke.
I wasn’t sure whether I could recycle my old lunch box and so I wanted to make sure that this would be possible with any new product I bought so I started to research each of the lunch box types.
First, let’s take a look at what recyclable actually means and what materials can generally be recycled.
What is Meant by Recyclable?
In the case of whether a lunch box is recyclable or not, the question is really “can the lunch box be recycled?” and this will depend heavily on the material that it’s made from.
Wikipedia does a much better job than I can in explaining what recycling is and so here is a small excerpt from their page.
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects.Wikipedia – Recycling
So basically, if your old (or new) lunch box comes to the end of its life with you, can it be made into something else without loss of material?
What Common Household Materials are Recyclable?
The most common household materials that can be recycled are paper, aluminium and stainless steel, glass, cardboard, garden waste and plastic bottles. Caution should be taken whenever you recycle other plastic items as not all products made from plastic can be recycled.
So from a lunch box perspective, you can see that not all boxes are going to be easily recyclable so let’s take a closer look to see which are.
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Lunch Boxes that are Recyclable
1. Stainless Steel / Metal Lunch boxes
If cared for correctly stainless steel lunch boxes have an incredibly long life and so it’s quite difficult to imagine recycling one.
Of course fashions and designs change over time and so it might be that your stainless steel lunch box come to the end of its life, not due to wear and tear but more for aesthetic reasons.
If you do decide to move on from your metal lunch box then you can be confident that stainless steel is 100% recyclable and if you’re buying a lunch box made from this material you should know that these days it’s very likely to be made in part from recycled material.
2. Glass Lunch Boxes
If you have a glass lunch box then it’s good to know that it is endlessly recyclable meaning that it can be recycled over and over again without the material degrading at all.
Once recycled the glass material of your lunch box can be made into other glass products such as bottles or even back into another glass lunch box.
You can see from this video how glass is recycled.
Glass is a wonderful material for a lunch box, not only is it recyclable but they also look fabulous especially as you can see your food inside. I love that about them.
Lunch Boxes that May Not Recyclable
1. Bamboo Lunch Boxes
As a material natural bamboo is not really recyclable in its truest meaning as the material would not practically go through a process in order to make another product.
That said natural bamboo is 100% biodegradable and so if composted for example would return fully to the earth.
When it comes to bamboo lunch boxes you need to be careful because the base of the box can be made from a mixture of materials and so are not 100% biodegradable.
This is where you’ll need to check the manufacturer’s labelling where possible to understand what is possible in terms of recycling.
2. Plastic Lunch Boxes
The majority of older plastic lunch boxes will most likely be made from a plastic known as polypropylene also labelled as PP or “5” on the plastic recycling codes.
Items made from polypropylene are very difficult to recycle and many household waste sites will not recycle them. In the US alone, only 3% of polypropylene is recycled and this level of recycling is reflected across many parts of the world.
I would hope that given all the media coverage around plastic pollution that most people would now avoid buying a new lunch box made of plastic but it is useful to know what you can do with your old box. For me, the best thing to do is to repurpose it to extend its life even further.
3. Fabric Lunch Bags
With fabric lunch bags you are very much in the same position as you are with bamboo lunch boxes.
The fabric is very unlikely to go through a recycling process in order to make a new product however if the bag is made 100% from a natural fibre then this kind of bag can biodegrade.
These natural fibre bags are still not commonplace and so if you have an older fabric lunch bag or you’re thinking of buying one then care should be taken especially around accessories, attachments and other design elements as these will elements will not be recyclable.
In addition, lunch bags are often insulated and so real care needs to be taken with these types of lunch boxes given the materials used to create such a product.
4. Silicone Lunch Boxes
So although silicone as a material is recyclable it tends to degrade slightly after each cycle.
Many recycling centres do not accept silicone products and so they need to be processed through specialist centres.
Although silicone will take centuries to degrade one benefit is that it will not degrade into the harmful microbeads that we see with products made from other plastics.
Challenges at your Recycling Centre
So there you have it, if you’re purchasing your next lunch box and you really want to be sure you can recycle it at the end of its useful life then you can’t go wrong with a stainless steel or glass box.
Here’s a useful table to recap what we’ve been through in this article.
|Lunch Box Material||Recyclable|
If You Can’t Recycle – Repurpose
What is worth mentioning is that if you do have an old lunch box that you feel can’t be recycled then the best thing to do is to repurpose it which will extend its life even further.
There are literally hundreds of uses for an old lunch box.
That’s exactly what I did – my old plastic lunch box is now a storage box in my shed!
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