Sep 08 – What a waste!

Continuing our theme from last month’s debate – waste – we are concentrating this month on the waste generated by excess packaging.

Despite increases in recycling, domestic waste has risen by 20% in the last ten years. Five million tonnes of packaging are dumped annually. Packaging accounts for one-third of an average household’s total waste and it is calculated that the average family now spends £470 per year on packaging.

The big food retailers have signed up to an agreement, called the Courtauld commitment , to slash packaging waste within five years and also to tackle the amount of food that goes to waste. But do you think they could do more?

Some campaigns urge shoppers to remove “excessive and unnecessary” wrappers and dump them at the supermarket checkout. Most people will be reluctant to kick up a fuss at the checkout, so what do you think we should do?

Are you fed up with excess packaging? Do you have examples of food with unnecessary packaging? We would love to hear your views.

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9 Responses

  1. It would also be more helpfull though if our local councils agreed on a recycling policy – here in stroud they wont take away or recylcle so much of the packaging but other councils do. That said we pack our things loose where we can…….its toys though that have rediculous packaging not so much food suppliers.

  2. Plastic milk bags are being championed in the UK by supermarket Waitrose and Wales’ Calon Wen Organic Milk Co-operative.
    Calon Wen has worked out that if milk bags were introduced, they would save over 100,000t of plastic waste going to landfills.
    Two other Welsh companies, South Caernarfon Creameries and Tomlinson’s Dairies, have started selling milk in 2pt bags in their local areas, reviving doorstep deliveries. Doorstep storage trays and storage jugs have been provided.
    The bags use 75% less plastic than a normal plastic milk carton and can be manufactured from a biodegradable plastic which breaks down in six to nine months
    The milk is purchased in 1l bags to fit a reusable plastic jug
    Once the bag is placed in the jug, a corner is snipped off with a scissors. When the bag is empty it can be recycled.
    In the summer of 2007, Waitrose conducted a trial of the milk bags across 21 of its stores in Wales, Bath and London.
    The 1l bags will cost a little more than the equivalent plastic packaged variety at 91p.
    Response has been positive and the milk bag is being rolled out to 50 Waitrose stores (February 2008) around the UK.
    Time for the other major supermarkets to take up the challenge like Waitrose but probably unlikely without customer pressure?.

  3. It seems that you have to have so much information on packaging these days. When you buy a pizza it comes in a box covered in information on what it’s made of, how much fat it has, how to cook it, how to serve it, etc. etc. Then you throw the box away

  4. As a milk and cheese producer, I have to use efficient packaging that will protect my produce while it is transported and used. I use plastic milk bottles for frozen goats milk, these cope with being knocked and sometimes dropped (not by me); years ago I used heavy gauge plastic milk bags and a heat sealer, the bags were easily damaged when they were frozen. My cheese is either vac-packed or cut and placed in a thin gauge plastic bag for sale.
    A lot of information is required by law on some foods, (ingredients, allergy information, weight, use by date and EEC number), this is for customer protection and cannot be avoided by the producer.
    Bearing this in mind, a certain amount of packaging is essential, and as customers ‘buy with their eyes’ they will have to accept a less ‘visually exciting’ product if packaging is to be reduced; I suspect that some customer education will be necessary before everyone is willing to accept this.
    Unfortunately, plastics provide excellent protection for products, other more bio degradable options often have disadvantages.

  5. The only way to bring about change is to refuse the products with excessive packaging.

    We;ve done this in our household and now our weekly rubbish is about 100 grams.
    So cheese and meat are bought from a deli and butcher respectively in our own reusable containers.
    Fruit and veg are bought loose from farm shops and markets
    Cakes, bread and biscuits are home made.

    Sure, food retailers could do a LOT more, but as consumers we have the choice to vote with our money.

  6. Why don’t Trading Standards prosecute companies that use excessive packaging, after all the law already exists to do this?

  7. Thanks man in the street, we’ll try to answer this in a new post.

  8. VERY interesting discussion!!

    It should be easier to buy with your own containers like Mrs Green does.. And more people need to be inspired to do it.. (I was only recently inspired by Mrs Green and others to go buy cheese with own containers.. still to gather courage to buy other stuff with my own reusables!)

    If the supermarkets gave a discount and officially invited people to buy with their own (like in the old days!) more people might be inclined to do it!

    And if producers had the option to sell in bulk (without having to individually package everything), many might be happy to do it!

    We had milk bags here in Slovenia years ago, but they got punctured in stores already sometimes etc.
    It is also questionable how the bags would actually biodegrade, I understand the info is usually for products exposed to light and ‘elements’ – in a landfill or even in some modern compost facilities, they may not be exposed to sunlight enough to biodegrade.. (and if shipped to an incinerator, they don’t stand a chance anyway..)

    Here we don’t really have plastic jugs for milk, it’s mostly cartons/tetrapaks in shops.. it is still questionable how tetrapaks are recycled, some parts may still need to be incinerated, leading to bad chemicals in the air.. If plastic jugs could be and would be recycled better (and less dirty) those might be a better option.. Provided plastics wouldn’t leech toxic chemicals into the milk.. Otherwise I love the option of buying in a reusable or ‘bring your own’ bottle/container or such..

  9. Oh, another idea: how easy would it be to give tax breaks to people/products/producers/sellers with less packaging, and tax unhealthy/heavily packaged/non-reusable stuff more?

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