As we have become more aware of recycling, we have begun to think about other issues, particularly the amount of packaging waste we create on a daily basis. At the moment we throw away about 10.5 million tonnes of packaging in the UK each year. We recycle about 59% of packaging we buy, but when packaging is thrown away there are environmental consequences.
Some packaging on the items we buy is necessary, to keep the product safe on its journey from manufacturer to retailer. Liquids need strong packaging to prevent spillages, while food needs to be kept fresh. A cucumber wrapped in a plastic sleeve weighing two grams lasts for 14 days, but it would dry out in three days without this protective packaging – in other words, packaging saves waste being created before products get to you.
Getting the balance right means reducing all unnecessary packaging, and making as much packaging as possible recyclable. Also using recycled glass, metal, paper, board and plastic in packaging helps to increase demand for recycled materials.
Some easy ways to cut down on unnecessary packaging:
- * Avoid overpackaged items and buy loose products where possible
- * Grow your own fruit and veg – zero packaging!
- * Buy toiletries and cleaning fluids in refillable containers
- * Buy milk in glass bottles from the milkman
- * Avoid buying items which are packaged in materials which are difficult to reuse or recycle locally
- * Recycle or compost as much paper and card packaging as possible
- * Reuse packaging where possible –empty ice cream tubs make excellent freezer containers and spare elastic bands and cable ties always come in handy
- * Buy a reusable coffee cup for your daily flat white. You’ll even find some coffee shops give you money off for using one.
- * Grab a reusable water bottle. Aside from water fountains, lots of cafes, restaurants and pubs will refill these for free when you’re out and about so you need never buy a bottle of water again.
What are manufacturers and suppliers doing?
Since 2005, 50 major retailers and brand owners, representing 92% of the grocery sector, have signed up to the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement to reduce packaging waste across the entire supply chain.
You may have noticed this in effect in the products you buy. For example, plastic packaging is no longer inside Easter egg boxes, and cardboard boxes have disappeared from around tomato puree tubes. There are also less obvious changes, such as lighter plastic bottles, glass and cans – up to 30% lighter in some products.
Look out for ways you can support reducing packaging waste – do your bit by buying products that have less packaging…if it isn’t obvious, just look on the back and it will usually tell you!