Mrs Green’s finds plastic in her cereal.

Filed in Blog by on July 6, 2009 15 Comments
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Old Mornflake packaging. Recyclable cardboard box

Old Mornflake packaging. Recyclable cardboard box

I had a bit of a strop last week over breakfast cereal packaging; which is no longer fully recyclable.

Timely really, after news that Sainsbury will be trying out some reduced waste packaging in the future. Only they are removing the recyclable cardboard and keeping the non recyclable plastic. Oh, and it’s only on their basics range.

Ho hum; I guess we can’t have it all ways.

Now I don’t mind sharing with you that I like to start my day with my oats. What girl wouldn’t?

For many years I’ve been a loyal customer of Mornflake. They produce beautiful organic oats that cook up into creamy porrage. I order direct from the manufacturer in bulk to save money and buy them 2 or 3 imes a year.

I was down to my last couple of boxes and thought I’d check out my local supermarket to see if I could top up before my next order arrived.

And I was horrified to see the packaging had changed.

I have to admit; it looked good – more of the eye candy, BUT

New cereal packaging with a plasic window. New Pack, same great oats!

New cereal packaging with a plastic window. New Pack, same great oats!

With a plastic window!

That’s right – they had replaced a perfectly good cardboard box to a box with a cardboard window in it. A small window yes, but plastic all the same.

As you might imagine, I got onto the phone as soon as I got home asking if it could possibly be true.

I spoke to a very nice person; who was, in fact, extremely understanding of my gripe and I think in all honesty he agreed with me.

He did advise me; as it says on the pack to take out the ‘small plastic window’ dispose of it in landfill but continue to recycle the box.
I quote from the box “The carton is made from a minimum of 90% recycled board. Please remove plastic window before recycling.” Now I like the fact that they are writing with the assumption that you WILL be recycling the carton, but, ya know, it was a bit of a heart sink moment.

He then went on to say that they had thought long and hard about the packaging but decided that it was no more environmentally friendly to make a product that didn’t sell and ended up being thrown away because of an out dated look.

Marketing you see. And the old issue that we judge everything at a superficial level.

In all honesty; the old design at the top of this post does look a little dated and I admit the new packaging is more funky and eye catching.

But what a shame they have  resorted to adding plastic to the box.

Have you found any brands that have changed their packaging for the worst?

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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 (15)

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  1. Sarah says:

    A lot of Tesco basic/value range is in plastic with no card outer sleeve. It drives me nuts.

  2. greenlady42 says:

    Yes, several, it’s funny but I had been musing over this issue recently and here you are with an article ! not all of them immediately spring to mind but one of them daftly enough is sherbert fountains. Not something I buy very often, maybe two or three times a year, but it used to have perfectly nice paper packaging, now to be replaced after gods knows how many years by plastic ! I had a look online and apparently its for ” hygiene reasons ” !! ( ) Well how we survived eating all those unhygienic paperclad sherbet fountains and dibdabs all these years I’ll never know !

    Sadly I think that over fearfulness of hygiene issues in both companies and individuals will slow the progress – or return to old fashioned ways – of reducing waste. Especially in the realm of containers and packaging – I was reading the other day of how Molly Weir used to be sent down to get sixpennorth of cooked peas in one of the family jugs, when she was a child in 1920’s Glasgow, can you imagine the outrage if that was attempted now ! And altho its not strictly packaging related, I did come up with an idea the other day – people should take their own containers for doggy bags if they eat out and take the leftovers home, whether or not the restaurant supplies them. Ditch the shame and take it home, I say !

  3. John Costigane says:

    HI Mrs Green,

    A fabulous new product from the stylish plastic packaging industry, NOT! The thing I like about such plastic windows is that we can ‘Return to Sender’ loads of them via the post. When the dolts who sell the oats get the stuff back, a rethink is highly probable. Do you have a forwarding address, I have lots collected earlier.

    On a different note, 2002 was another year for the Zero Waste trend. I first came across the ‘Zero Waste America’ website of that year, which had not no topics after that. The same recently on LetsRecycle forum where 2002 was a cut-off point for that particular Zero Waste trend here.

    The opposition seem to think we will share the same fate as 2002. My view is that we should be cognizant of the fact and resolve to do better this time. There is such a range of challenges to keep the focus and victories, like the Zero Waste Easter Eggs, will lift the spirits.

  4. Despairing says:

    I was always under the assumption that the reason the basic/value ranges came in just the plastic bag was so that you could put it into an old Kellogg’s box and fool your children into thinking they were eating the “real” stuff.

    I guess that’s a form of reuse!

  5. John Costigane says:

    @Despairing: Reuse is when a bottle for instance holds liquid, like washing-up, and gets refilled from a refillable source. The reuse aspect is the plastic bottle which would otherwise be recycled/landfilled etc.

    The situation here is different as the plastic pack holding the foodstuffs is a recurring item of waste, which will collect into a massive amount of waste, over time. The card box is reused, which has value in saving more boxes being used. This is negated by the unsustainable use of plastic packaging waste.

    Zero Waste would require a refillable system of cereal supply to the householder, eg a solid container, preferably non-plastic, though the reuse aspect lengthens the lifetime of the container.

  6. Just Gai says:

    How frustrating. Perhaps you could try Quaker Oats which come in a cardboard box with no plastic anywhere.

  7. Ben says:

    Most Sainsbury’s cereals say you can recycle the plastic bag in their bag recycling bins in store. I’m not sure exactly what the bags are turned in to however, but believe they’re turned in to plastic garden furniture. It’s a start, but unfortunately the garden furniture can’t normally be recycled when it wears out itself.

    It seems that breakfast cereal is going to have to result in some plastic to landfill sooner or later.

    Maybe manufactures will go back to waxed paper or use biodegradable films in the future. Twinings tea use a biodegradable wrapping in their tea bags that would be well suited. The technology is available, we just need to encourage companies to start using it.

  8. Philippa says:


    Sainsbury’s are going to stop using cardboard cartons for at least some cereals and move onto using just plastic bags!

  9. *Sigh*

    Then again, every time I visit your site, it looks different! I need to do another facelift on Fake Plastic Fish. Shall I add a plastic window? Would it be okay as long as the rest of my site were recyclable?

    Sometimes it all just feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? And I notice you look tired in some of your videos. Maybe we should throw ourselves a big Zero Waste party on Twitter and invite anyone who needs cheering up. We could have karaoke.


  10. I don’t really understand the need for the plastic bag anyway as the cardboard should keep things fresh I would have thought.

    The best idea would be as John has said buk bins for refill the customers own containers etc.

  11. Do bulk bins exist in the U.K.? Here in the U.S. Bay Area, we have stores like Whole Foods that carry cereal and granola in bulk bins. We can (and I do) bring our own containers; unfortunately, many customers use the plastic bags that are offered by the store, even though there is a system in place for weighing customer’s containers and deducting the tare weight at the register.

  12. John Costigane says:

    Hi Beth,

    The US system of bulk bins would not be setup here because we love the plastic so much, we being traders in general in the UK. There is the rare local trader who has a space on the shop floor with lidded containers, using scoops. These are hard to find locally, but I recently found one in Paisley and will try to promote the maximum range there. The convenience of plastic packaging and the lack of Producer Responsibility are 2 reasons for the supermarket intransigence when it comes to change.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Sarah: It’s a pain isn’t it – why don’t they just do it the other way around? Grrrr.

    @greenlady42: Oh Noooooo; to the sherbet fountains. I focused on those last year when I did an article on zero waste chocolate and sweets. What a shame and as for the hygiene reason; well that sucks.
    I think we will drop dead from living in a sterile environment before we catch the lurgy from the sherbet.
    Love the doggy bag idea – I would love to do that; you’ve paid for the food, so why not.

    yesterday I unpacked some stuff in Argos that I bought as I saw a box for plastic for the staff; so I asked them to use it for me. They were very obliging! Probably talked about me over lunch, but who cares; at least I didn’t come home with metres of plastic to dispose of.

    @John Costigane: Sending the plastic windows back to sender is an idea, John – thanks. With the amount of oats we get through here it won’t be long before I have a nice package for them!

    @Despairing: I would imagine you are right, Despairing; but why not buy it in cardboard and fill the Kellogs wax inner with your basics range? 😉

    @Just Gai: Thanks Just Gai – are the quakers brand organic?

    @Ben: That’s very interesting Ben – thank you for the information about recycling the plastic in Sainsbury’s – I’ll ask them about that. I didn’t think it was polythene which is why I thought we were left with it as consumers. I’ll give my local branch a ring and see what they say.

    @Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish: Hi Beth, great to see you here! I can’t remember the last time you left a comment! A zero waste party sounds like a great idea LOL! I have been tired, but I feel renewed now. We just had a holiday and I did a lot of soul searching whilst there. Now I feel motivated and energised again 🙂
    Hope you are well; saving the world gets exhausting doesn’t it?!

    We have a minimal amount of stores doing the bulk bins. We have a company close to use but they are reducing their range due to lack of interest.

    @maisie dalziel: Hi Maisie, the MOST frustrating part about this is that mornflake have used just cardboard for YEARS! With no problem at all. There is no need for plastic as their past sales and lack of food waste has shown. It’s all about cost, marketing and appearance.

  14. Jane says:

    Kellogg’s Bran Flakes’ box I was pleased to see tells us “The cereal bag is made from plastic called HDPE and is recycled in some places.” Hurray for better information! This is VERY small though under the large Recycle Now info about the box. (Shouldn’t we all know what card is anyway?)

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Good news Jane, thanks for sharing – things are gradually improving it would seem!

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