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The Tide is Turning Against Overpackaging and Here is Just 1 Reason Why

These compilation packs by Walkers highlight the problem of brand owners replacing plastic packaging with cardboard (or paper). The 100% Recyclable logo appears to be designed to make their customers feel that somehow the box is environmentally good, when in truth it’s ‘greenwash’ of the highest order. This ‘100% Recyclable’ box is 12 times heavier than the 13 gramme plastic bag. That’s 12 times more packaging waste produced, 12 times more lorries on our roads to carry the same amount of goods. However, the first question we should ask is, do we really need a 20 crisp compilation pack? Isn’t this cardboard box and the plastic an extreme example of 100% overpacking?

Both the bag and the cardboard box are recyclable. The box, at home and as Walkers point out on their website, there are now over 3,500 collection points in the UK where the plastic outer pack can be recycled. But even if not one plastic outer was recycled, Walkers are still encouraging their customer to buy 12 times the packaging required if they want a 20 pack.

But is that really the point? According to Google, we already cut down 200 million trees every day to make paper and board. Adding to this devastation by unnecessarily replacing plastics, doesn’t make sense either environmentally or economically. (7 tonnes of board are needed for every million packs of crisps sold in these boxes. This means another 120 trees ‘lost’ to overpackaging). Yet, we see this plastic replacement fetish growing all around us. Supermarkets using billions of paper bags, when (according to DEFRA) 75% of the old plastic ones they replaced were used at least twice, before being discarded. How many of the current paper bags given away are used twice? We now see fruit being sold in cardboard trays not plastic. Cakes and buns now packaged in individual cardboard boxes. These plastic replacements not only mean more forests cut down, but also billions of gallons of extra fresh water lost, along with thousands of tonnes of extra chemicals used and increased GHG emissions, adding to global warming. All these occur due to overpackaging when replacing plastic with paper/board.

Overpackaging is all around us. We have all experienced it and we are now beginning to see it for what it is, a complete waste of the Earth’s natural resources, along with the unnecessary emission of Green House Gases and a generator of excessive waste.

This photo is one of my own, unfavourite examples. This solid roller could have been sent out with just a label or packed in a few grammes of plastic, instead we have a large cardboard box and many extra kilos of board. Both the plastic and the board are recyclable, but isn’t this overpackaging just a waste of the Earth’s natural resources?

The cost to planet Earth of excess packaging has recently been documented (The Human Cost of Overpackaging F.E.R.N. Report April 2023).

Their conclusions include:

  • That the pulp and paper industry is one of the world’s major polluters
  • The pulp and paper industry is one of the world’s heaviest users of fresh water
  • The pulp and paper industry consumes 4% of the world’s energy
  • The pulp and paper industry is chemically intensive, polluting rivers and harming eco-systems
  • Wildfires in sustainable forests are virtually unstoppable as the eucalyptus trees, grown for their pulp, explode when ignited (examples are given)
  • The surge in paper/board packaging waste is being driven by online shopping and the shift away from disposable plastic food containers

If only half of what this report claims is true, it is a salutary reminder that ‘recyclable’ or even ‘sustainable’ does not necessarily mean environmentally good, or environmentally better. It also cries out for any plastic packaging replacement to be based on robust scientific evidence and not in response to vociferous pressure groups, media, myopia, or populist Government legislation designed to appease both.

As ever, I would welcome your views on any of the issues mentioned, along with any examples you may have of overpackaging.

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