Is this the worst case of plastic packaging?

Filed in Blog by on March 23, 2009 22 Comments
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plastic clamshell for one cakeOk, I just had to buy it! Not that I adore custard tarts, but because the enormous packaging had to be seen to be believed. We were shopping in our local Budgens store and I finally succumbed to buying this monstrosity. You see, we’ve seen this before several times in Budgens. One small individual cake packaged in a large fancy clamshell case, each cake all by itself floating about aimlessly in a totally unsuitable plastic box that won’t keep it safe in any event.

To be fair, we love our local Budgens store. They specialise in sourcing local produce from manufacturers that are situated in the region.  They even tag each item with ‘food miles’ so you know how far it’s travelled. Ok, that’s the good bit, but “if every cloud has a silver lining”, does that mean “every silver lining has a cloud”?

This plastic clamshell must surely be the worst case of over packaging. There is so much space inside the box that the cake floats around, falling over and upside down allowing it to get broken. I could have packed four inside it and still have room left over, so as packaging, it does not even work. As unmarked plastic, it presents an enormous, wasteful landfill object.

Yes, I could reuse this case, as a small seed propagator maybe, or to store something in. But how many of these can you have around the house? Ultimately it has to be disposed of… all for the sake of one small cake. I thought the easy eco-way to pack cakes was in a cardboard box that can easily be recycled after.

What do you think? Have you got an example of mad, crazy packaging like this? Tell us about it. If you can post a picture to flickr or somewhere, put a link to it here.


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  1. Sarah says:

    That’s dreadful, what ever happened to a paper bag?

  2. Peter says:

    I’d have to say no…where near.

    It’s pretty bad on relative proportions, but there are many cases when the total volumes/weights can get out of hand, especially with courier deliveries, that also add ‘other’ impacts.

    But I’ll certainly add it to my ‘Good Pack/Bad Pack’ list:)

  3. Mr. Green says:

    @Sarah: I think most supermarkets have fallen for conveinence and presentation before sensible packaging. You are right Sarah, in a bakery, this would simply be on display with a few others and then packed in a paper bag when sold. A clear case of ‘Support your local foodstores’ not supermarkets.

    @Peter: Very True Peter. Couriers are notorious for bad packaging. If they have a box that’s oversized for the item/s they just use it anyway and fill it out with bulk like poly pieces etc. No thought about the ecology of their work.

  4. MrsJ says:

    OMG I thought that was the leftovers after you’d all eaten one!!

  5. Mr. Green says:

    @MrsJ: What makes all this worse is that this is NOT an isolated example. There are lots of individual cakes like this all taking up shelf space. Did they buy a job lot of large clam shell cases?

  6. russell says:

    This is just crazy! Have you thought of writing/emailig Budgens to see what they say? As you say it is not even fit for purpose let alone environmentally friendly!

  7. Gemma says:

    I think this is on a par with the Lidl butter dish! 🙂

  8. Mr Green says:

    @russell: Russell, you are absolutely right. This packaging fails in every respect. We’ve been seeing it is our Budgens store for a while. Maybe we should point them to this post and see what they have to say? However, I am going to challenge the manager on this and find out what’s going on. The packaging is clearly unfit for purpose and I can only guess they have a bundle of these things and they are trying to use them up. No marketing person would ever suggest this was in any way ideal.

  9. MrsJ says:

    Did you make comment about it at the till?

  10. Gemma says:

    I just found a photo on my computer of some packaging like this. I think we ordered several ink cartridges and this one came on it’s own – and the others were in a big box but at least there were more than one of them! Photo:

  11. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mr Green,

    This, and similar packs, is the standard for supermarkets. They do provide protection against physical damage : the reason for universal use.

    There are different methods for the consumer to react to this waste monstrosity. My choices include paper/card packaged or containered cake purchases. Home baking is best of all.

    Highlighting the issue has value and hopefully the penny wil drop and more thought will go on waste prevention. The Zero Waste Easter Eggs this year is a positive, with one design of improved card design replacing the usual plastic surround.

  12. Mr Green says:

    @Gemma: O-M-G- !!!! Gemma That’s outragous. Looks like we maybe collection a hall of fame, more like infamous packaging crimes.

    @MrsJ: Yes, I said “looks like I’m getting a free incubator with my custard tart…HoHo!” The 19 year old checkout boy just grinned politely.

    @John Costigane:

    This, and similar packs, is the standard for supermarkets. They do provide protection against physical damage : the reason for universal use.

    Maybe, except this cake was free to roll around the box, knocking bits off itself. Seatbelts were invented to stop things like this happening in cars. Maybe this cake is missing its seat-belt. I better call the Budgens road police!

  13. John Costigane says:

    Hi Again,

    The packaging is such poor quality, put aside the waste issue. I remember similar types from small bakers, supplying supermarkets. The cakes were usually well made.

    Nowadays, I do not even look at cake sections in my Zero Waste approach. Staff like the plastic and some get annoyed at my refusal to take any, which is a laugh.

  14. carol b says:

    apparently over-packaging is illegal in the UK.

    The ‘Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2004’ state that,

    ‘Packaging volume and weight must be the minimum necessary to maintain necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and the consumer’.

    you’d hardly believe it when shopping in supermarkets though…
    I’ve read that telling trading standards of persistent over-packaging can help get changes made

  15. Mr Green says:

    @John Costigane: Hello again John; I suspect it will always be a uphill struggle with supermarkets. After all their bottom line is profits and anything goes to make that bigger and better. We will ask our Budgens store what they think of this issue and post back here soon, however.

    @carol b: Hi Carole… Now that’s interesting, as it would appear that many retail outlets and delivery services do not adhere to those recommendations. However, some strong ammunition to throw at supermarket managers if they ‘get funny’ about our complaints of over packaging. Thanks for the info!

  16. Carole Blake says:


    Carol B, and I’m Carole Blake, this could get confusing!


  17. Mr Green says:

    @Carole Blake: Oooops, the mistake was mine. I spelled Carol b with an ‘e’so my applogies to you Carol b. Providing youre email addresses stay the same we’ll see the same avatars, which helps a bit.

  18. Katy says:

    Whatever happened to common sense? (I know, not so common these days!) How would that poor thing ever survive the trip home? Can I balance this out with some good news though? There are zero waste pudding possibilities out there!

  19. When I worked in an instore bakery years ago we had cup shaped containers in plastic I must admit; which were in either 2’s or 4’s so if a customer only wanted to buy one custard tart at least it went into a 2 rather than a 4. Still not ideal I realise but better than the above.

  20. absolutely unreal. You’re right, the tart would have been safer in a paper bag than banging around in that huge container!

  21. Mr Green says:

    @Katy: Hi Katy. That’s good news indeed and interestingly ew have 2 glass ramakins from a ‘GU’ pudding that we bought well over a year ago. They are ideal for keeping small food remains.

    @maisie dalziel: I agree, things apopear to be getting worse and not better in this respect. I guess in times of plenty, there is more waste. My parenets who were around during the 2nd W.War sy that during that time nothing was ever wasted and just about everything was reused in some way.

    @Jen from CleanBin: I think these observations bring up one important point; we have to try and support local bakers, butchers, grocers, etc; before the supermarkets. Mass food production leads to mass packaging methods and these usually concentrate on display and preservation and not ecologically sound protection.

  22. Mr Green says:

    UPDATE …
    We went into our local Budgens store yesterday and I quickly made a line for the cake counter to see what was happening. The good news is that the small isolated cakes as seen above are now packed in small individual trays and cellophane. There were stuill some large clam shell cake cases, but they had 4 items in them and not one as before. There was nothing to really say to the manager and they had obviously tidied up their act before we went in. I think my hinch was right… a job lot of oversized clam cases had to be used up and now they are gone.

    As often is the way ecology is sacrificed before convenience

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