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Friday, 5 October 2012

Greener packaging choices

Packaging currently makes up around 18 to 20 per cent of your household waste. Reducing the amount of packaging you consume - and recycling more - can help shrink your rubbish and minimise damage to the environment. Choosing products with less or no packaging may even save you money.

Think about packaging when you shop

There are lots of ways you can use less packaging, such as:

  • buying concentrated products and refill packs instead of fully packaged products – this can save you money too
  • buying non-perishables in bulk – items like toilet rolls and soap powder are often available in larger sizes which use less packaging
  • buying items with a ‘best before’ date in bulk – but only if you can consume them before they go off
  • buying fruit and vegetables loose rather than in packaging trays or boxes – buying only what you need means you tend to waste less food
  • avoiding highly packaged items
  • looking for packs marked as light-weighted that use less packaging

Say ‘no’ to single use shopping bags

The average adult uses 300 single use shopping bags per year

Using a ‘bag for life’ instead of single use shopping bags is one of the easiest ways to reject excess packaging. Around 45 per cent of shoppers claim to have bought a bag for life but only 12 per cent regularly use one. Keep your reusable bags with the shopping list to make them easier to remember.

You could also consider an ultra compact reusable shopping bag. These fold down to a very small size, making them convenient to carry around with you.

If you do use plastic bags, get a plastic bag dispenser for your kitchen so that you can reuse them – for example, for lining bins.

Dealing with unavoidable packaging

A lot of packaging is necessary to transport goods without damaging them, keep them safe or make them easy to use. It can also prolong the shelf life of some fruit and vegetables. Unwrapped cucumbers are often un-saleable after three days, but using just under 2 grams of packaging can keep them fresh for up to 14 days.

You can help protect the environment by disposing carefully of unavoidable packaging.  Many products are now marked with advice on how to reuse, recycle or dispose of packaging.


There are many ways to re-use packaging. Think about buying refill packs so you don’t have to throw away old containers. You could buy eggs loose and use old cartons to bring them home. There are also new uses for packaging, such as children’s craft or storage. For more tips, click below.


Almost 60 per cent of packaging used in the UK was recycled in 2006 – up from 27 per cent in 1998. There’s still more to do though; you can recycle much of your packaging through your local authority waste collections and community bank facilities.

For more detail on this, see our recycling section.

What retailers and producers are doing to reduce packaging

Packaging is a cost to manufacturers and retailers, and many companies are working with government to reduce packaging. Solutions include reducing the weight of packaging (such as bottles, cans and boxes), increasing the use of refill and self-dispensing systems, and better packaging design. Many manufacturers are also increasing the amount of recycled content used in their packaging.

Since 1998, companies using packaging have spent over £800m on increasing the recycling of used packaging.

In addition, shops and supermarkets have agreed to reduce the environmental impact of single use shopping bags (both paper and plastic) by 25 per cent by the end of 2008. This will mean 3.25 billion fewer bags being used and will save 58,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

How to complain about excess packaging

There is a law in the UK against excess packaging which is enforced by Trading Standards.

If you think something has too much packaging and you want to complain, you can:

  • write to the supermarket or manufacturer to complain, asking why they are using so much packaging
  • contact Trading Standards to investigate by calling Consumer Direct on 08454 040506

Trading Standards will also be able to consider if the packaging is deliberately misleading in making you think there is more product in the pack than there actually is.

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