Excessive supermarket food packaging is undermining householders’ efforts to recycle

Filed in Blog by on February 18, 2009 61 Comments
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cake-boxes from non recyclable packagingMrs A covered this story yesterday, and some of our readers sent us links to various media attention on this important issue. Thank you to all of you!According to the Local Government Association, around 40% of supermarket food packaging cannot be easily recycled. Ya don’t say!

Much to my surprise, Waitrose had the heaviest packaging (802.5 grams) and Tesco the lightest (645.5 grams).

Lidl had the lowest level of packaging that could be easily recycled and Sainsbury’s had the highest.

Since October 2007, the overall weight of packaging HAS reduced. And I’ve seen numerous reports by companies stating the measures they are taking to ensure this. However, the ability to recycle packaging has not changed much.

Tesco, for example,  say that customers are using 50% less carrier bags than they were a couple of years ago. They have removed 24.8 tonnes of plastic packaging from their electrical products and reductions in the packaging of their sandwiches save one 15 tonne lorry full of waste every month. Every little helps, right?

Only this week, I threw some croissant wrapping in the bin because the packaging was ‘not yet recyclable’. There is no excuse for this – we live in a technological age, so let’s embrace that and combine it with some common sense to eradicate non recyclable packaging.

Optimists believe that if we create less waste, our council tax bills will reduce. I have my doubts, but my concern is not with my bank balance, it’s with the long term future of our environment.

I’m going to throw out a few suggestions for those poor manufacturers that obviously need some help.

  • Multipacks of baked beans come in non-recyclable shrink wrap, but why not simply do a BOGOF offer (or equivalent) on them? Do they really need to be barcoded and packed differently? Can’t the consumer just pick up 4 tins and let the computerised tills work out the rest for you?
  • Why plastic wrap items that come with their own skin? I’ve seen shrink wrapped cucumbers, swede and coconuts. Coconuts – WTF? Have you ever tried to get into one of those things!? I can assure you that no harm is going to come to a naked coconut.
  • Put a massive charge on disposable carrier bags. The number of times I have drawn blood when biting my own tongue when the person in front of me at the checkout takes a carrier bag for a loaf of bread or pint of milk. Charge 30p a bag for heavens sake and follow the leading example by Ireland.
  • In Barcelona last year, Radiohead held a concert. When you needed a drink you bought a recyclable cup to use. You were given a clip to attach it to your clothes between uses and when you finished, you either took it to the bar for a refil or you could sell it back to them. Just like a desposit on a shopping trolley! Bring back the returns on glass bottles I say!
  • If you buy a prepared curry; do you NEED a cardboard outer AND a plastic film or cardboard lid? Just choose one or the other and stamp the nutritional information and cooking guidelines on there. Geesh.
  • And last; any company that produces items in clamshell or similar packaging, such as luxury cakes or easter eggs; well, let’s just castrate them and be done with it. Cardboard or foil will do, thanks

So yes, there is a way to go yet and we all know that this, along with the bottom of the recycling market dropping out is perfect fodder for the incineration arguement, but let us not fall into the ‘not my responsibility‘ trap.

We are all responsible; each and every one of us. Many of us here try to boycott items with packaging that cannot be easily recycled or reuse, and with a little more effort and optimism we might just be able to change things in the future. Let’s not give up hope, feel that we are not doing enough or pass the blame. But do keep the pressure on manufacturers and supermarkets to do more to help us 😉


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (61)

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  1. Well said Mrs G. What might surprise the retail industry is that I actually avoid some multipacks and buy individual tins instead. It might cost a few pennies more and take me a few more seconds to put in my trolley, but at least that’s less rubbish going to landfill. BOGOFs would be work and it is only a data management issue that needs to be implemented and from a process perspective, it cuts one extra process from manufacturing. Surely that would be a bonus with financial implications that shareholders would like to see. By the way, some multipacks such as orange juice use polythene. This can often be recycled along with carrier bags. It’s always worth checking with your supermarket.

  2. I noticed a real difference coming back to the UK at the end of last year – sales assistants were much less willing to let customers have unlimited carrier bags. That’s great, but then the amount of packaging on everything in store blew me away. Definitely think more people need to return packaging to the store. That would cost them and encourage a reduction.

    Can’t believe the shrink wrapped coconut – who on earth thought up that one?

  3. maisie says:

    I have just been for the first trip to HWRC and then onto the town near it.

    This is a traditional market town with a twice weekly market, monthly farmers market and lots of little butchers, bakers, greengrocers and even a cheese shop although higher priced, plus the hundred or so charity shops.

    I didn’t have time to do much mooching today but we got some chips from the chippy near the carpark, wrapped in greaseproof paper then in normal paper and put into a “PAPER” carrier bag.
    I nearly fell over with shock.

    This town is one that is aiming for Fairtrade status and alot of the shops are selling their own canvas/jute bags, so you don’t have to have the plastic.

    There is also only a small SOmerfield and a medium Co-op so no major supermarkets and the nearest one in driving distance is approx 30 miles from there.

    I do like goiong there to shop and have a mooch about.

  4. John Costigane says:

    Mrs Green,

    There is so much they could but as Zero Waste enthusiasts we can lead the charge by shopping on our own terms. That is what I do and there is minimal waste as a result.

    To increase the number of enthusiasts, we just have to keep promoting our campaign to the max. As you have seen, the recent additions to the site are doing all the right things, and a lot quicker than I managed. That must be a positive.

  5. Katy says:

    Everything you say here is 100% common sense – we can see it, why can’t the people who make these decisions? Shrink wrapped coconuts… I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    If the government has to prop up industry in these lean times, why can’t it do it by supporting/promoting new recycling technology and manufacturing items from recycled materials? There must be so many relevant and useful skills suddenly out there in the job market – let’s use them!

  6. Poppy says:

    My DH went to Germany for the World Cup and drinks bought there were in re-usable hard plastic cups which they paid a little extra for and then got back if they returned them or cheaper drinks if they went for a refill. He brought several home as souveniers and they are still going strong now 🙂

  7. Kris says:

    I do like the hire-or-buy cups idea, and would love to have the opportunity to return my bottles (or anything else) for a refund, like corona bottles back in the past.

    My big sweeping change if I could have one, would be that all the plastic tubs that meat, fish and virtually everything else in supermarkets is packed in could be disposed of in banks as easily as milk bottle plastic. (Though I still think tubs are better…)

    btw – the baked beans I buy (Heinz 200g tins) have recently popped up in slightly more economical threesomes held by a cardboard sleeve.

  8. Pat says:

    I agree with John by shopping on my own terms. It really bothers me that not only are items in a packet but the packet is then placed inside a box. Plastics and cardboard are the two biggest groups I recycle each week and this is all because of the ridiculous way food is packaged. I have also seen the shrink-wrapped coconuts here in the states and Why? was the first thing I asked, and was told it was to help keep them fresh longer. Still seems crazy since they are inside a hard shell.

    Great article Mrs Green!

  9. I’d love to see some frustration-free packaging on supermarket items — like when the bakery wraps a loaf of bread in a plastic bag, and then puts it in a paper sleeve. One or the other, please! Or neither. I think most customers can handle naked bread.

    Also, Trader Joe’s (an organic food supermarket with much better prices than Whole Foods) wraps all of their produce in plastic of some kind. Some even come with polystyrene trays and plastic wrap. You’d think they’d know better.

  10. It’s funny too – the people who want to buy organic, probably also want less packaging, but it seems like at the super market they are mutually exclusive. The organic oranges always have their own plastic piece of tape around them, and a lot of the produce is bagged. Seems counter intuitive. I’m never sure whether to go for organic or less packaging.

    I do like the concert mug deposit idea. See, people are happy to go along is someone will just organize it.

  11. That was supposed to say “IF someone will just organize it”

  12. Di says:

    Totally agree the packaging is getting out of hand! fruit and veg (unless they are berries/squidgy stuff) don’t need packaging. Really coconuts? And I HATE getting the cling wrap off a cucumber! Just don’t do it people!
    T-bags is a crazy one. Wrap the t-bags in celophane, place them in a cardboard box, then rewrap the box in celophane too, just incase it escapes the first celophane??

  13. Mrs Jackson says:

    Saying no to packing though is keeping my supermarket costs down – but so is it my choice is being limited.

  14. Poppy says:

    I had a cyber chat with some friends during Zero Waste Week and this is part of the conversation –

    Mrs F – I hate the thought of all those people who didn’t wash their hands when they wee’d feeling the fruit and veg etc! If it was harder to fondle I would buy it free range.

    Same with fresh fish; my son stuck his hand in the ice as a toddler, just didnt know what it was. How many others do that? yuk!

    Me – Don’t be paranoid about your food. Most things you are either going to cook, peel or wash, so very little chance of any nasties getting into and/or staying in/on your food. Also when things are growing in the fields they are often landed on or trapsed over by insects and wild animals who have absolutely no hygiene principles.

    Our ancestors survived without copious amounts of plastic, and not that long ago so given the amount of problems that plastics cause, (littering and landfill) it’s reasonable to try to cut back on their use.

    Mrs L – When I was small cakes came without the box and polywrap but things were served from behind glass units.

    Me – lol! Behind glass and swarming with wasps I seem to remember! Did we buy them? Yes of course we did!! Did we suffer? No!

    We seem to be up against a growing tide of people who want to live in a totally sterile environment 🙁 Perhaps it is them that needs to be wrapped in plastic and not the food!

  15. Katy says:

    Spot on, Poppy. Hygiene fanatics have a lot to answer for, not only packaging but anti-reuse rules like we heard about the other week. The balance has swung too far.

    @ Di: My local co-op sells naked cucumbers, see if yours does?

    I eat raw veg and fruit every day, none of it (except celery and spinach) comes wrapped, and I am not dead yet! 🙂 I don’t even get ill, generally. The one time I ever got food poisoning was after a takeaway curry! Unwrapped fruit and veg is not a hygiene hazard.

    Cleaning product ads have a lot to answer for I think. “Germs, GERMS, BACTERIA, OMG!!!! We’re all doomed!” What rubbish.

  16. Sarah says:

    Surely wrapping fruit and veg in unbreathable plastic makes it sweat and actually encourages decomposition? Potatoes that are washed and kept in plastic sprout faster, go softer and mouldy too. Same with carrots – When I bought carrots in a plastic bag I’d take them out as soon as we got home and the skins are SLIMY!! But within a short while without the plastic they’re cool, dry and carroty again.

    So, where does the idea of plastic keeping things fresh come from? It’s just rubbish!

  17. geenteamsandiego says:

    Can anyone tell me where to buy shampoo, toothpaste., etc in bulk quantities that can be dispensed into re-usable containers? Thanks.

  18. Jen, I’ve noticed that about organic produce too. I’ve always wondered if it’s so that people won’t try to sneak it into a produce bag with the regular produce.

  19. Carole Blake says:

    @[email protected] Frugal Girl: I asked at the co-op (poor supermarket, I never give them any peace), why their organic bananas were wrapped up in plastic, and that surely that negated the whole organic/green thing, and was told it was so that they didn’t get confused with the “ordinary” variety.

    So would us evil, evil shoppers switch ordinary variety stickers??

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Almost Mrs Average: Hi Mrs A – well done you for sticking by your principles. Cost isn’t just about our bank balance; the real cost of some of these purchases has a far wider consequence.

    @mrsdirtyboots: Hi Mrsdirtyboots. Well it’s good to see that not so many free carrier bags are being dished out. When I worked at sainsburys (MANY years ago, I hasten to add) we had to put reams of bags on our checkout and if anyone had to ask, that was really bad news. It’s good to see that has changed now.

    @maisie: Maisie; that sounds like a wonderful town – we should all have one. Glad lunch was good 🙂

    @John Costigane: Hi John, readers of this site have grown tremendously over the past month. I don’t know where everyone is coming from and it’s lovely to see more and more people sharing the vision.

    @Katy: I love your response, Katy. I too would like to see skills and money put into recycling / reducing. I wonder if there is more money to be made from incineration?

    @Poppy: I have a feeling Germany are more ahead of the game than us. It sounds like hubby had a great time!

    @Kris: Good to know about the baked beans Kris – I’ll have a look out for them next time I’m shopping 🙂

    @Pat: Hi Pat; great to see you from over the pond. I can’t believe that you were told coconuts would keep fresher for longer in shrink wrap. That has to be a big load of you-know-what 😉

    @SavvyChristine: Ah, the frustration packaging issue. I think Amazon are doing well to address this. We covered it last November after one of our readers, Katy, shared the story on her blog:
    Let’s hope the supermarkets and wholesalers soon follow suit. It’s getting better, but very slowly.

    @Jen from CleanBin: I’ve noticed the same with organic produce, Jen. It’s frustrating unless you have access to an organic farmers market or farm shop because it means, as you have found, that you need to select one ‘green issue’ over another.

    @Di: Di, I hear you on the teabags! That’s another great example. We did, in the end find some zero waste teabags in the UK; but I’m not sure what your options are. Katy mentioned Red Rose – have you heard of them?

    @Mrs Jackson: I’m finding that too, Mrs J – you can’t indulge in convenience foods, which really bumps up the price. Green and frugal, what could be better!?

    @Poppy: Yay! Wrap them in plastic and off with their heads. I think we are becoming way to over cautious with hygiene and look where it’s getting us; superbugs perhaps?

    @Katy: **stands up and applauds** Loved your post; which spoke so much sense. Thank you for sharing.

    @Sarah: Eeeew; we’ve had the mouldy root veg in plastic bags scenario too. It’s really vile and seems to smell particularly bad.

    @geenteamsandiego: Hi geenteamsandiego, welcome to the site. Where do you live? That might lead someone to helping you find an answer.

    @[email protected] Frugal Girl: @Carole Blake: Oh, that’s a good point. What a shame though – we have to wrap stuff because of potential dishonesty.

  21. Layla says:

    OMG!! 🙂

    I had to blog about this!! 🙂 Basically, about what I found out – and it’s totally related to this post!!

    It seems indeed there is a TREND to make packaging that ‘burns well’ – I do wonder if the incinerator industry isn’t sponsoring it all!! (or lobbying the committees etc. responsible for this in EU, &/or individual brands/designers!!)

    I think writing to the green party in EU parliament would be in line!!! (and more!!)
    A huge WANT NAKED FOOD campaign!! :))

    Totally agree about all this over-sterilizing producing superbugs and potentially even more ill people!! (of course the pharmacy lobby would have big profits then! so they may all be in this together-?)

    re: dishonesty of people (or individual stores) – yup, this might be a concern.. Still, can’t they provide ‘lockers’ for own Tupperware-style containers (like for bicycles or hostel safe deposit boxes) – or even sell their own branded boxes with easily applied lockers? (The staff that normally puts cellotape on your plastic bag which is then destroyed could easily zip on a ‘protection’, no?)
    Also, stuff bought could be put on a swipe card to avoid the endless sticky labels!! (I’m a bit uneasy what to do with those!! not really comfortable composting or burning, who knows what they’re made of!!)

    /rant over – well, hope something will be done about this!!

  22. geenteamsandiego says:

    Hi Mrs. Green,

    I live in San Diego but I am willing to buy over the internet. I am looking to start buying my toothpaste, shampoo etc in bulk quantities and transferring it into re-usable containers for daily use. I googled several different combinations of “bulk”, “wholesale”, “toothpaste”, etc and found nothing useful. (Well, except for your site.) There has to be a company that sells hygeine products in bulk. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  23. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    I have strong views on packaging, ownership and responsibility. At the moment retailers are pushing the package disposal costs onto the consumer, councils and council tax/tax payer; without accepting they need this packaging more to get food to the checkout (barcodes, advertising, branding, labels); than consumers need it from the checkout onwards.

    If packaging can’t be viably/technically recycled/composted by consumers; producer responsibility should apply; the big six supermarkets should take producer responsibility and provide plastic package “Bring back” compressor skips in car parks for packaging/items to be ditched/returned such as:

    disposable razors
    crisp packets
    pringle tubes
    cling film
    food trays
    yogurt pots
    plastic bags
    all plastic packaging

    with the producer responsibility provision they can not incinerate it for energy recovery.

    Customers would he able to ditch legitimately or bring back packaging for supermarkets to collectively deal with.

    The liklihood is the power of supermarkets would drive then look at both minimisation of package amounts; standardise plastics to PET/HDPE marketable closed loop plastics, designing out waste/unsustainability, do their own commercial mechanical plastic recycling or look at better APG/Fuel conversion module technology such gasplasma/ ethanol/syngas conversion for petrol/diesel substitutes.

    All saving councils/public purse a package on PFI incinerator deals/black bin collection tonnages/transport, less litter and less to landfill.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    @Layla: Layla, this is very concerning to hear about manufacturers concentrating on ‘burnable’ materials. I feel sad to read that and I’m not sure how one would go about stepping up a campaign. I for one don’t have the time / energy commitment for such a thing.

    @geenteamsandiego: Hi again, I’m really not sure about bulk buying toothpaste; as I have only seen it in small tubes. Sure you can buy 10 tubes at a time, but nothing in large packaging to reduce waste. Have you considered using bicarbonate or soda and / or salt as an alternative?
    I’ve only seen shampoo in 1ltr size containers, which won’t really save you much by way of packaging. How about contacting a local hair dresser to see if they could supply you?
    Alternatively, you might like to switch to clay. You can read about my adventures with this here:

    @Rob Whittle,Nail2: Hi Rob, we’ve talked about the idea of being able to return packaging to the supermarkets too.

    Infact we had this issue ourselves this week with a local butcher – I’ll be writing about this in the next week or so.

    I ended up with unwanted packaging and ok, I COULD have refused the product, but now I’ve washed the packaging I want to take it back. Mr Green disagrees and thinks that would be way out of order because I have agreed to buy that packaging when I made the purchase.

    We definitely need some kind of regulation of plastic packaging with just a few types which can be recycled / composted easily instead of so many different types which leads to confusion and non-recyclable packaging.

  25. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    I COULD have refused the product, but now I’ve washed the packaging I want to take it back.

    This is a tricky one.

    For the last 60 years we have been living with an increasing retailer collusion concerning package. The assumed premise retailers need it, consumer needs it. Collusion exposed the retailers supply/justify the current volume and especially plastic package, more than we the consumer need or want it; especially the big six most depend on for family food/budgets.

    If 50% of retailers offered a mimimised package deal this would allow individual consumers (en masse)the market choice of refusing excessively packaged items. Unfortunately less than 5% of retailers offer this choice so this choice doesn’t exist for 95% of folk. So its more than just individual choice of products without packaging. So IMO until this mass balance changes via package rejection or/and return should be a valid consumer choice and movement, until retailers cotton on to the consumer is right concept in the status quo, and producer respomsibility applies for packaging. Regulation is part of it, individual choice to ethical but slightly more expensive retailers; but so are mass comsumer messages to the big six via package legitimate rejection/return choices.

  26. Hi. Im new to this site but it looks pretty lively. I have the recycling brief for the Chedworth Environment Group here in the Cotswolds and their are lots of issues locally. One of our members lived in Germany for a number of years and she says that in Germany when you get to the cash till in the supermarkets you can take off all your packaging and leave it in the bins provided for them to recycle. Isnt this a brilliantly simple idea. Should we not lobby our supermarkets for a similar scheme in the UK? What do you think?

  27. John Costigane says:

    @Hugh Blackwell: Hugh leaving plastic packaging waste in the supermarket still leaves the waste to be landfilled/incinerated. A better way is to ditch the packaging altogether. You can buy most items loose. If we all bought this type supermarkets would be forced to adapt.

    There is an impasse between government, councils and supermarkets which only the consumer can break. That is the reason for the Zero Waste trend.

  28. Rob that’s a real valid point about the wider availability and those manufacturers of minimal waste packaging should indeed shout about it and defy the trend for overpackaged items. Manufacturers have spent the last 60 years marketing their products with packaging designed to encourage consumers to buy, with over-packaging often being associated with luxury goods. They need to wake up that the needs and wants of today’s society is much different and that less is indeed more. John’s right about the power of consumers to break the chain. Manufacturers and retailers will only make the sales if they sell what the consumer wants. What we need is a sensible big name manufacturer with huge retail backing to stand up and prove that zero waste packaging works both for the consumer and for their profits.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    @Hugh Blackwell: Hello Hugh – welcome to the site; it’s good to meet someone else from the county.

    The idea your friend shared about Germany is wonderful and I’ll certainly be sharing that one with some people. Let’s see what we can do for the UK! What I would like to see is it taken one step further, in that instead of simply being left at the supermarkets for them to landfill, it is then recycled / reused by the supermarket. If their costs were so high that landfilling was no longer an option then perhaps we could get back a few steps and only allow them to use a few types of recyclable materials.

    Is there an online version of the recycling brief you mentioned or is it ‘secret’ information? I’d love to see it.

  30. MrsJ says:

    I guess if the supermarkets had to dispose on the packaging though and at their own costs, they might think more carefully about what packaging is really needed.

  31. Carole Blake says:

    Grrrrr –

    Whilst waiting for the photocopier to finish printing off worksheets for the children today, I opened a brand new “Big Book” which was part of an order waiting on the bench to be delivered down to the infant class.

    The book was about eating fruit and veg, all well and good, but halfway through was a bit about the packaging that fruit and veg came in, and it showed the usual: hard plastic; soft plastic; nylon netting etc. The text said “We use packaging to help protect our food from bumps and damage. Which packaging do you think would be best for these fruit and vegetables?” Pictured were bananas, apples, oranges, turnip, carrots etc.

    Think I’m going to have to have a word with the infant teacher so that she can tell the infants that “No packaging” is the correct answer here!

    Wondering now if this book was published by “Supermarkets Utd.com!!!!

  32. Mrs Green says:

    @MrsJ: Hi Mrs J, I think we are all in agreement with this – it’s time to up the landfill costs so that there is an incentive for better packaging.

  33. Mrs Green says:

    @Carole Blake: Hi Carole! What an interesting thing to find in this book. Our children are the ones who need a really good education so that they can make positive change in the future.
    I would argue that turnips and carrots don’t need any packaging at all! Everything comes in a cardboard box anyway; surely that is sufficient if we are mindful not to be too heavy handed with things.
    I do hope the infant teacher is agreeable to what you say – I’ll be interested to hear how the conversation turns out.

  34. Carole Blake says:

    @MrsJ: I really, really wanted some celery for soup I was making this evening, but all the Co-op had were large heads wrapped in plastic bags (they said biodegradable on the side, but I know that even those bags cause pollution in the form of gases as they rot down, and there must still be SOMETHING left surely even at the end of that), but as I wanted it, I simply waited until the checkout girl had scanned it, removed it from the bag and handed it back to her telling her I didn’t want the excessive packaging. Be brave, you can do it!!!

    In fact, I think next time I’m going to take scissors in with me, as there was also some swedes that I wanted, but they were wrapped up in that thick, shrinkwrapped stuff that breaks your nails!!

  35. MrsJ says:

    @Carole Blake: Oh well done. Doubt that was my local co-op lol. I think a mass protest where we all meet up and go shopping together – would boost people (like myself)’s confidence to do it and I think would really make a point. I mean, one bit of plastic they can probably put under the till but can you imagine loads of us doing it.

  36. Carole Blake says:

    @MrsJ: I really want to do just what you suggested, one lone voice standing outside of Tesco/wherever with a banner bemoaning excessive packaging just won’t cut it. I’m designing a poster for my car and have got some iron on transfers for some charity shop tshirts.

    P***** Off with Packaging (suitable campaign slogan?? – probably not)

  37. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    Certainly an easy area to target supermarket on is their packaging of fresh fruit and veg; and to make it a zero package area.

    Consumer pressure has successfully made inroads (still more to go) into plastic bags.

    No shop is going to go negative packaging overnight. Rainbow package heavily. The way forward are targeted campaigns salami slicing specific sub areas where packaging is excessive to the product and excessive to the consumer, and is acheivable. e.g fruit and veg packaging.

    Some national code of practice/agreement (big 6) against packaging in this area would be substantial progress forward. ie cellophane apples in foam trays, shrinkwrapped brocolli/cellery/lettuces etc.

  38. Carole Blake says:

    It was a big rejection to Co-op bananas today, all the loose ones were green as green, and all the organic ones were wrapped up in the usual…so no bananas, and then I forgot to go to the fruit shop!!

    However, I took my own container into the Co-op for cheese, and the guy probably thought I was a bit eccentric at the deli counter, but he was quite agreeable to just putting a barcode sticker on my plastic tub and then told me he quite agreed about there being too much excess packaging everywhere. The girl at the checkout though it was a brilliant idea!!! I feel very positive. I’ve told the boys they can’t have any more shop bought crisps, I’m on a mission here.

  39. John Costigane says:

    @Carole Blake: Well done, Carole, containers are excellent. The more people use them the wider their range of items carried. Consumers can change the status quo. Staff mostly agree though there are a few sticklers. Just stick to your guns.

    In some superstores I shop, they see me as Public Enemy No.1. It is great to inspire fear in these palaces of waste plastic. Maybe a pair of dark glasses would add to the image. haha.

  40. Carole Blake says:

    @Mrs Green: Spoke to the teacher about the book and she agreed with me. I don’t have any worries that the children are going to be wrongly influenced there!

  41. Mrs Green says:

    @Rob Whittle,Nail2: if I pluck up the courage to return my washed packaging, I’ll let you know how it goes!

    @Carole Blake: Carole, the thick shrinkwrapped packaging is the stuff that stops me stripping off at the checkout. I’m not sure how someone would react if you took out your own scissors of knife. I can see a strange scene where the police are called!

    I have to know what your transfers say on them. We all know that sex sells, so I think a slogan needs to be along the lines of ‘I prefer my cucumbers naked’ or some such phrase 😉

    We too have found that once the lovely people on the deli counters and checkouts get over their shock they all AGREE that there is too much packaging!

    Anyway, I’m delighted to hear about the teacher and her attitude towards the messages in the book – that is good news.

    @MrsJ: Mrs J – we did talk about doing a mass supermarket visit last year, but we’re all spread around the country / globe, so organising it might be tricky. Plus I tend not to travel much. It’s a great idea though and one worth thinking of again.

    @John Costigane: John, I can see you in dark glasses with a bowler hat or perhaps a bandanna and pair of leather trousers; wielding your containers and reusable bags about the country …

  42. MrsJ says:

    Maybe we could return our packaging on our next visits to the supermarket.

  43. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    Mrs J, that sounds cool..and say “This is not mine, its yours I think, I’m just returning it” as you point to the supermarket label/barcode.

  44. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    That sounds like Zero Waste chic to me. It would certainly draw even more attention, or chuckles. Maybe you should start a clothes show for the Zero Wasters. A whistle would be part of it so that when we all decide to “raid” a superstore we could create some din as well. Very newsworthy!

  45. Carole Blake says:

    @Mrs Green: Slogan? I thought of: “Get it naked – your fruit and veg that is”
    “Plastic Wrap is Crap”
    Just a little idea or two.

  46. Mrs Green says:

    @Rob Whittle,Nail2: Quote: ““This is not mine, its yours I think, I’m just returning it” as you point to the supermarket label/barcode.” Brilliant! I wish I could pluck up the courage to do that!

    John and Carole; I think we have a plan in the making LOL!

  47. Alison Kerr says:

    Yay, my local trash company are now taking plastics 1-7 for recycling. The only thing I wish they were taking and don’t is glass. I totally refuse to buy vegetables, fruit, and meat on polystyrene trays. My trash pile each week is pretty small because most of our paper and cardboard is also recyclable. Still, it would be even better to have minimum packaging.

    In an attempt to drastically cut my family grocery bill this year I’ve moved to cooking mostly from scratch and not only has our cost gone down, but the amount of packaging I bring home has too.

  48. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Alison; what great news on your trash company. Do you know what they are doing with the plastics? Minimal packaging is the way to go, so that recycling is not such a burden and like you have found; cooking from scratch can help with this. Well done – do you have a favourite home cooked meal?

  49. Brian Goodwin says:

    In these days of environmental focus, nothing seems to arouse the passions like packaging. Unfortunately, much of the “bad news” that circulates on the topic is based on myth and hearsay. For example food packaging helps food to stay fresh for longer and reduces food waste. When food waste is dumped in landfills it will rot and produce methane – a gas of significantly greater concern regarding global warming than CO2.
    For more interesting facts and myths regarding food packaging I can recommend this article:http://www.bensongroup.co.uk/bensongroup/articles-environmental-myths.php

  50. John Costigane says:

    @Brian Goodwin: Brian, We know this supermarket mantra off by heart. I do not use your plastic packaging (waste) and also have no food waste. Please explain this ‘impossible’ situation using this mantra.

    The truth is that it is nonsense. Plastic packaging is used purely for the profit of supermarkets, which is fair enough. My problem with it is that supermarkets do not pay for the resulting mountains of plastic waste, dumped on householders. That is the true situation and more and more people are realising this.

  51. Mrs Green says:

    @Brian Goodwin: Hello Brian, welcome to the site and thank you for leaving your comment. The article you linked to is very interesting and it’s good to see another view on these ‘myths’ . I’m sure packaging helps to reduce food waste for some; especially those who need to shop once a fortnight or so.

    Buying fresh, lose products where possible does require more frequent shopping, which is not suitable for all because of a shift in lifestyle choices.

    however, as a family of three, who enjoy some of the conveniences of 21st century life, you’ll see from our site that we put out less than 100 gms of waste packaging per week. Much of this is based on asking ourselves BEFORE purchase, what will happen to the end product.

    I would be very interested to see some independent tests done on the amount of food waste created from non-packaged items and those that are packaged. Although packaging CAN help, it is not the full answer. Good food management at home is the key as we have proved to ourselves over the past year.

  52. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    @Mrs Green

    Sensible comment. I do tend to agree.

    The answer is getting the balance and types right with packaging. Some food items are over or needlessly packaged; other food items require packaging for individual circumstances, freshness and longer live/shelf life. Certainly there are areas where extra packaging “labelling” “branding” and “advertising” can be reduced or cut. One thinks of cereal packet grey/white card that contains a sealed/sealable cereal packet inside; and such like.

    Certainly if supermarkets were required by law to provide a packaging take back bin; required to sort different packaging into material categories for recycling or treatment..at their cost…..I’m sure overnight the tonnage of packaging and mountains dumped on the householder and councils via the wheelie bin would fall dramatically.

  53. Poppy says:

    @Brian Goodwin: @Mrs Green:

    I would suggest that those that buy unpackaged foods, are giving a lot more thought to their actual needs. It may be ever so slightly easier to pick up a pack of 8 tomatoes or a bag of apples, but it’s totally pointless if you aren’t going to use them all.

  54. Mrs Green says:

    @Rob Whittle,Nail2: Hi Rob, good to see you again. Balance is the key. Sure it would be nice to be purist about things, but really, if we all take responsibility for our waste a little more, including manufacturers, there wouldn’t be such a problem.

    We can combine ethical living with convenience, if we all work together. And you’re right; if the burden fell on retailers a little more, there would be an overnight revolution in the way we do things!

    @Poppy: Yes Poppy! Large bags of pre packed items can lead to MORE food waste; good point. This is something Hilary Benn was on to the other week; especially with BOGOF offers which we buy and then throw away.

  55. Rob Whittle,Nail2 says:

    @Mrs Green; News worth circulating. Very pleasing to hear Sainsbury are ditching cardboard boxes for their cereals; and just labelling the bag inside. Second story down, letsrecycle. They must have been listening to my above whinge, lol.


    Accepting supermarkets are a fact of life; its good to see mass consumer demand, and key directors listening. Question; who will be the UKs first genuine ZW supermarket? We should encourage them positively. ZW coincides with good waste housekeeping/cutting waste; the original definition of “eco-nomics”

  56. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Rob, it’s certainly a move in the right direction, but as some of said on this thread:


    it’s the wrong part they are ditching! I have been buying a brand of oats for years, which comes only in a cardboard box – there is no wax plastic inner.

    A couple of us have written to Sainsbury to see what they have to say on this and whether they will be providing facilities to recycle the plastic wrapping instore.

    The first ZW supermarket; Mmmmmm, I have no idea; it would be fun though, wouldn’t it. I think we could take a leaf out of the German supermarket book with great recycling facilities at the checkouts.

    is there a shop you favour for reduced packaging? The first ZW **ought** to be the Co_op, but I’m not sure…

  57. @Rob Whittle,Nail2: I think Sainburys must have asked the customers who don’t give” 2 hoots” about the environment or ignored those who do.

    As if I and many like myself had been asked we would have stated ditch the bag which isn’t recyclable and will end up in landfill and use the box which is recyclable.

    The plastic they are proposing to use accoroding to the newspaper article I read said it was the same plastic as currently used for its own brand crisps, which clearly states on the packet “NOT RECYCLABLE at PRESENT”.

    A definite step in the WRONG direction.

    An even better idea would be bulk bins where people can fill their own containers.

    I also don’t expect the price will come down even though there is half the packaging.

  58. Mrs Green says:

    Another thing I read today was that this change of packaging if for their ‘Basics’ cereals; not all of them. So it really is only a tiny offering….

  59. Kate says:

    Dog food packaging annoys me. Dry foods used to come in a tough paper sack which was useful for storing potatoes in, or it could be ripped up for the compost pile. Now it’s all plastic sacks.

  60. Poppy says:

    I’m pretty sure that you can recycle those in with carrier bags Kate. That’s where mine go now anyway 😉

  61. Mrs Green says:

    @Kate: Hi Kate, I’m having the same trouble with rabbit food! Some of the plastic is recyclable, but some of it is number 7 or has the cardboard bonded to it, which means you can’t do anything with it. I think each brand varies. Would a pet shop sell the product loose by weight? (might work out cheaper too) 😉

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