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  • Ailsa Reynolds

Making a Choice - Packaging

It can sometimes be really difficult to make choices. It's a minefield out there!

Reproduced with the kind permission - Megan J Herbert

There is loads of information and guidance, much of which is helpful, although unfortunately some it only adds to the confusion. Lots of you will be making efforts to reduce packaging use already, so what I've aimed to do here is offer a summary from the information I've read, as there may be suggestions that you haven’t thought of or tried. This is what I've picked up. I hope you find it useful.

Cutting down on plastic waste

There is a lot more awareness now about the need to reduce plastic waste, (bottles, bags, food wrappings, containers, drinking straws) and things are beginning to change, but it's not always easy . What we can do though is to choose brands and shops that more effectively meet our environmental goals . Hopefully this is beginning to send firm messages to companies and supermarkets that we really don’t want plastic.

Here are some options -

Bring your own reusable bags instead of using plastic. Plastic bags can’t be recycled. They can take up to 1000 years to fully disintegrate. It's estimated that approximately 5 trillion plastic bags across the world annually end up in the ocean or landfill.

Most supermarkets now sell reusable shopping bags and by law must charge for single use plastic carrier bags (UK).

Some UK supermarkets now have an option for customers to bring their own reusable container for certain counter-bought items. eg Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Morrisons.

If you have a zero waste shop in your area you can bring your own containers and buy products by weight. They are well worth supporting.

Stop using plastic produce bags

The same problem applies to the plastic film used to pre-package fruit and vegetables – it can't be recycled unless specified, so it's best to buy loose produce if you can. You are also more in control of how much you buy which helps to cut down on both food and plastic waste.

Many supermarkets now use paper or recyclable bags for produce. Although this is progress, energy is used to produce these and effective composting may require more heat than is normally available in a home compost system. One way to help is by taking your own bags for fruit and vegetables. Many supermarkets now sell these or you can make your own. (A friend makes hers from old sheets!) Very often you can do without bags altogether.

Look for reusable or cardboard containers.

Many items come with a choice of plastic wrapping (not recyclable) or cardboard (which is).

Look for the FCS logo

Opt for canned or glass drinks instead of plastic

Plastic can only be recycled about 2-3 times before it’s no longer usable. Aluminium is infinitely recycleable. However, try to buy cans that are already in the system, as the production of new aluminium continues to perpetuate harm to the environment.

Recycle Now states that both steel and aluminium cans can be recycled many, many times over and that aluminium 'is the most cost-effective material to recycle, using around only 5% of the energy and emissions needed to make it from the raw material bauxite' and chances are that your aluminium can is from 'around 75% of all the aluminium ever made… still in circulation'.

It also advises that while steel can also be recycled multiple times, the initial production is very costly in terms of emissions and use of resources. Again, recycling what's already in the system is really important. They say that unfortunately many cans and other items 'still go to landfill. If we recycle more cans we can reduce the amount of raw materials needed to produce new products.'

Glass can also be recycled many times but takes more energy to do so than aluminium. Both are better choices than plastic.

Know your recycling symbols

Here is more information about recycling guidance and symbols in the UK.

Look for eggs in compostable boxes

Instead of plastic or styrofoam egg containers, look for cardboard. Look for soap or shampoo in bar form and wrapped in paper. Look for dried food items packaged in cardboard. These include pasta, rice, lentils , couscous . Many still have a plastic window which isn't recyclable.

Local markets

If you have a local market this is also a good way to buy exactly the amount you need and you can decline packaging.


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