Is sellotape recyclable?

In this article I will answer the question, “Is sellotape recyclable?”. Besides that I will go over the challenges we face in recycling sellotape, the impacts of sellotape in the environment and the alternatives to sellotape that are available. 

Is sellotape recyclable? 

No, sellotape is a non-recyclable material. In most modern households across the world, sellotape also known as adhesive tape or scotch tape is a must. 

Gift wrapping, packing up for moving or simply to stick a photo to the wardrobe door, sellotapes are a staple.

Sellotape is a trademark of Henkel, however, with wide use of the product, the word Sellotape has become synonymous with adhesive tape. It has an adhesive side with the other side usually being clear plastic.

What is Sellotape? 

Sellotapes are a part of a group called pressure sensitive tapes, whereas water and heat activated tapes are also in use.However in the packaging industry, sellotapes have created a large market for themselves due to wide availability and low cost of production. 

What is sellotape made of? 

The adhesive chemicals used in sellotapes have been altered many times. Before the Middle Ages the adhesive substance was procured from tree sap, beeswax, flour pastes and more. 

During the Middle Ages, these chemicals were replaced by glues made of animal remains and later on during more modern times rubber-based resins were discovered. 

In post-industrialized days however, we have strayed quite far away from nature, and the adhesive material is a byproduct of fossil fuel fractionation. 

The sellotape that is widely used across the globe in recent days is made of a polypropylene film and an industrial adhesive from fossil fuel sources. 

Globally, the adhesive tape market is a billion dollar industry, with sales spiking during holiday seasons, particularly during Christmas in Europe and North America. 

Why can’t sellotape be recycled?  

Since Sellotape is a thin film of polypropylene (PP) with a composite material attached to a side, it is currently not recycled in any recycling centers. 

These tapes are considered soft plastics and are very hard to recycle. In general terms soft plastics are considered to be those which can be crumpled by hand such as a polybag or gift wrapper, food packaging and tapes. 

Moreover, since most tapes are too small and are usually not separated from the packaging they are usually discarded into landfills. 

There are few tapes which are made of PVC and not PP, but most are made of PP around the globe.

With the advent of new technology, it may be possible to recycle the PP in tapes however, that is yet not realized. Approximately 90% of the PP ends up in landfills and are not recycled. 

PP is an extremely popular plastic for packaging purposes and in the US alone, 5 billion pounds of PP is produced every year (2010). 

Despite its wide use, most PP end up as waste in disposal sites with a post-consumer recovery rate of less than 1 percent according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States.

This could yield devastating results for the environment since PP takes about 20-30 years to fully decompose. 

Moreover, additives in PP such as cadmium and lead pose serious threats to surrounding ecosystems. Burning PP is also potentially harmful as it releases dioxins and vinyl chloride into the atmosphere. 

How is Polypropylene recycled? 

In the traditional method of PP recycling there are 5 steps: collection, sorting, cleaning, reprocessing by melting and producing new products. 

The first 3 steps are self-explanatory, however, in the 4th step it is crucial to make sure that the melting temperature is maintained at 2,400 °C. The melted plastic is then cooled and cut into pellets which are then used to mold new products. The resin number for PP is 5 and as mentioned before, this plastic is hardly recycled. 

One thing to note is that this method of recycling has its own issues, mainly the energy expenditure to reach such high temperatures to melt the plastic is itself a toll on the environment.

In recent years however, companies like Nextec Ltd. and Purecycle Technologies have developed more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways in which PP can be recycled. Perhaps in the near future there will be a solution to recycling sellotape as well. 

There is an increase in PP-based sellotape use in developing nations:

In many developing nations, particularly the South Asian nations, plastic use has increased considerably in the past decade. 

As a result of a booming e-commerce market, the packaging industry in South Asian countries have made incredible growth. E-commerce sites like Amazon in India and Daraz in Pakistan and Bangladesh are making record profits in the pandemic climates. 

The governments of these nations are giving ample incentives to entrepreneurs to start their own ecommerce sites. This boom inevitably brings with it a mountain of packaging waste which is mostly cardboard, bubble wrap and adhesive tapes. 

The South Asian waste disposal and recycling centers are currently struggling to keep up with this incredible growth. 

Recyclable tapes and alternatives: 

In the last 5 years, many companies including Sellotape itself have released a biodegradable version of adhesive tapes. These tapes are 

called cellophane tape because the thin layer that replaces the PP is made of plant-derived cellulose. 

This cellulose is biodegradable and thus is much less harmful to the environment. The cellulose is made from wood pulp or cotton seeds, however, the adhesive used is a petroleum product and it is potentially harmful to various ecosystems. There is research currently underway, which is looking into developing newer biodegradable adhesives for cellophane tapes. 

The adhesive industry is looking into two main issues regarding cellulose-based tapes at the moment, one is compostability of the tapes, meaning how easily the tape biodegrades, and the other is repulpability, how well the tapes can be recycled. 

In the near future we will be able to replace harmful PP-based tapes with Cellulose tapes altogether. 

Two other alternatives the industry is looking into are water and heat-based additives. Water-based additives in particular have been in use for a long time. The additive on old envelopes which needs water for activation is one such example. 


As laws in developed countries are becoming more stringent regarding the use of non-recyclable material and as population laws become more and more advanced, industries have to adjust to this dynamic scene by continually inventing more sustainable products and production means. 

The packaging industry is no different, they now have the impetus to change additives into water or heat-based additives to minimize environmental damage. 

As eco-friendly tapes become more available it is important to keep in mind that these products must be cheap, and easy to produce in abundance so all nations rich and poor can afford to make the switch to more environmentally sustainable packaging. 

Adhesive tape industry is slowly making progress in the field of recycling. One main challenge that remains in recycling tapes is the composite nature of the product. 

These tapes are commonly cut into small pieces and it is very hard for a recycling plant to sort them into a pile. To this day most tapes are made with PP which is a plastic that takes decades to decompose. PP is also very inefficiently recycled, even in the developed countries. 

In developing nations, recycling plants are rare and far between particularly in south Asian countries. Paired with an increasing consumption of adhesive tapes in developed countries, this lack of recycling is resulting in these fine plastics ending up in streams and rivers. The aquatic life in these countries are suffering as a result. 

Due to the toxic nature of the additives in sellotapes, avian and even human populations are at the risk of being affected in developing nations. Mass production and increased availability  of eco-friendly additive tapes could potentially subside these negative effects. 

Currently there is a push to develop more environmentally sustainable consumer products and habits, thanks in part to the concept of circular economy, which hopefully in the near future will pose modern solutions to the problem of sellotape pollution. 

Conclusion

In this article I answered the question, “Is sellotape recyclable?”. Besides that I went over the challenges we face in recycling sellotape, the impacts of sellotape in the environment and the alternatives to sellotape that are available. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is sellotape recyclable? 

Can I put sellotape in the recycling bin? 

The answer is, no. Most sellotapes are PP-based and are currently not recyclable. However, there are more eco-friendly options to plastic sellotapes which are made of cellulose and paper. These are recyclable, given that they are collected from the packaging and scrunched up altogether. 

What bin do I throw sellotape in? 

Most sellotape is non-recyclable and thus must be thrown into the normal trash bin. 

Is Sellotape bad for the environment? 

Yes. It is very damaging to the environment as it takes more than 30 years to decompose and contains toxic chemicals which affect wild species around the landfills. 

Is sellotape compostable? 

Depends on the type. Sellotapes are primarily two types, PP-based and Cellophane-based. Cellophane is made of cellulose and thus is compostable and recyclable. PP-based sellotapes on the hand are not compostable. 

Do you need to take sellotape off cardboard packaging before recycling?

Yes, recycling plants mostly discard materials that are not properly cleaned and thus plastic remaining on the boxes make them unfit for further processing. Make sure all the tape is taken off the box before throwing the box in the recycling bin. 

Is sellotape made of cellophane? 

Yes and no. It is important to read the information on the packaging before purchase. In most countries today, PP-based sellotape is still sold widely. However, in many stores now, cellophane-based biodegradable sellotapes are becoming more common. 

References: 

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  2. Polypropylene Recycling – An Introduction. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/an-overview-of-polypropylene-recycling-2877863
  3. All you need to know about soft plastics and recycling. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/all-you-need-to-know-about-soft-plastics-and-recycling-1.4665513
  4. Is Tape Recyclable?. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.treehugger.com/is-tape-recyclable-5083466
  5. Southeast Asia Takes Action against Plastic Pollution | SEADS. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://seads.adb.org/news/southeast-asia-takes-action-against-plastic-pollution
  6. Is Sellotape Recyclable? (And Is It Compostable or Biodegradable?) – Conserve Energy Future. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/is-sellotape-recyclable.php
  7. E-commerce in Bangladesh: prospects and challenges. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.newagebd.net/article/147734/e-commerce-in-bangladesh-prospects-and-challenges
  8. Towards sustainable waste management in South Asia. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-10-18/Towards-sustainable-waste-management-in-South-Asia-UFcVHRt0sM/index.html
  9. E-commerce in South East Asia grows at an exponential rate. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.thedrum.com/news/2021/08/31/e-commerce-south-east-asia-grows-exponential-rate
  10. Circular economy: definition, importance and benefits | News | European Parliament. (2021). Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20151201STO05603/circular-economy-definition-importance-and-benefits

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