Can you recycle cereal boxes and the plastic liner?

  • Date: June 27, 2022

The variety of cereals available make it a popular breakfast choice in many households across the country. But how does the typical cereal packaging fare when it comes to disposal? Thankfully, not too bad! Cereal boxes can easily be recycled in the vast majority of curbside collections. The plastic bag/liner recycling, typically, involves an extra step – in general, they must be taken to the grocery store recycling point for soft plastics. But new, more easily-recyclable paper-based alternatives are (hopefully) on the horizon. Let’s take a closer look…   

Firstly, What are cereal boxes made from?

Knowing what an item is made from is the first step in determining if it can be recycled or not. Cereal boxes are categorized as a flat cardboard – thicker than paper, but much thinner than the corrugated cardboard used for packaging and suchlike.

So, can you recycle cereal boxes?

Cereal boxes are one of the easiest food packaging items to recycle.  If in doubt, check with your local recycling center, however paper/cardboard items are typically accepted in the standard curbside collections.

It does come with some conditions. Cereal boxes must be clean and dry to be suitable for recycling. It is also good recycling etiquette to flatten the box – more items will be able to fit in the reciprocal, making the collections more efficient. More efficient collections equal less carbon emissions from less trips to and from the recycling center.

Composting is always an option too…

If your cereal box is soggy or dirty and not suitable for recycling, this does not automatically mean that it is destined for landfill. If you are green-fingered, composting is a great alternative (just the boxes, I’m perhaps stating the obvious, but the plastic inner bag cannot be added to the compost pile…). In addition to diverting it from landfill, it will also produce a nutrient-rich compost to use in your garden in the process.  

Cereal boxes, and cardboard in general, is rich in carbon and, therefore, forms a ‘brown’ component of the compost pile. Cut/rip/shred the cereal box before adding it to the pile to ensure it breaks down more efficiently. If you are new to the composting world, check out some of our answers to the most common beginners questions here.

What are cereal plastic bags/liners made from?

The plastic cereal bags that ensure the cereal stays totally fresh tend to be made from high-density polyethylene film. In the complicated world of plastics, this is classed as plastic #2.

Can you recycle cereal box liners?

Typically, cereal box plastic liners (the plastic bag that the actual cereal is in) can be recycled. However, it tends to be a little more awkward than recycling the cereal box or even some other plastics. Some curbside collections will pick up these types of plastics, but many wont. Check with your local recycling service, but in most cases it is likely that you will need to take it to a grocery store collection point.

The cereal bags can, generally, be recycled alongside other soft plastics such as plastic carrier bags. There are typically collection points within the larger grocery stores that cater for this type of recycling. A bit more effort than your curbside recycling, but it diverts it from potentially hundreds of years in landfill.

But its not all bad news…

In all areas of life, scientists are working tirelessly on innovations that will be a bit more planet friendly. The cereal packaging world is no different. Kellogg’s, one of the biggest players in the industry, have started trialing a fully recyclable, paper-based inner for their cereals. They would prefer recycling of the plastic bags to be more readily available at the curbside, but since this is not currently the case the paper-based product provides the most eco-friendly alternative. Fingers-crossed it proves to be a successful trial – the ease of recycling a paper-based bag would likely divert lots of plastic from landfill.  

And before this becomes standard, you can always re-use them!

Getting the most re-use out of an item is a great way to divert it from landfill too. If you Google this, you will find lots of ways to re-use plastic cereal bags – some more realistic than others! Have a look on Pinterest for inspiration – you’ll find lots of suggestions from gift bags to (quite ingenious) gift wrap!   

If you aren’t as crafty, or patient, there are plenty other ways to make use of plastic cereal bags. The original use of the bag was to keep your cereal fresh and ensure a lengthy shelf-life. You can use it in the kitchen again for the very same purpose – bread, cookies, cake, lentils and pretty much anything that fits will be kept fresh in a plastic cereal bag.

The bottom line

Cereal boxes, and their inner plastic bag, are straightforward for recycling. Cereal boxes couldn’t be easier – simply ensure it is clean and dry, flatten it and add it to the curbside collection. The plastic bags that keep the cereal fresh for longer, generally, require an extra step for recycling. Curbside collections tend not to accept these, but thankfully the grocery store recycling point usually collect them alongside plastic carrier bags and suchlike.