/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Overpackaging – are shoppers or supermarkets to blame?

Model of a shopper packaged in cellophane

From underfilled vitamin tubs to a biscuit packet that weighs 10 times more than an identical product, we’ve found some crazy examples of overpackaging. But who’s responsible for cutting back?

When we asked Which? members if they wanted manufacturers and supermarkets to do more to reduce packaging, a resounding 94% agreed.

What’s more, 78% found the amount of packaging sold on products in supermarkets to be annoying.

Shoppers should snub overpackaging

It’s easy to be against excess packaging – it clutters up our recycling bins and makes our shopping heavier to carry home. But can we expect change from product makers if we don’t put our money where our mouths are?

When we asked people if they try to buy products that don’t have excess packaging, 54% said that they did, and 46% said they buy products with recyclable packaging.

Are you noticing the downward trend in the numbers? Well, they continue to slide… just 23% said they decided not to buy a product due to too much packaging.

But while consumers have to take part of the responsibility, this low figure must have something to do with the fact that there’s often no lower-packaging alternative.

We unwrap supermarket packaging

We decided to investigate the true extent of supermarket packaging and found that customers could be misled into thinking they’re getting more than they actually are.

We found the same biscuits in two different packs, one of which weighed 10 times more than the other, but contained fewer biscuits. Another biscuit tub was so over-engineered that our expert could stand on it without deforming it. We also discovered toy packaging that took up to six times more space than the toy itself!

Check out our new Flickr gallery for more examples of good and bad practice in action:



It’s not all bad news

Our research did find some improvements. Cadbury’s boxless Easter egg sales are up by 75% since 2008, for example. The best part is that the boxless eggs’ damage rates are the same as for its boxed eggs.

We’ve also had some success taking our findings to retailers. Asda and Morrisons both told us that they were already looking to reduce the packaging on items we raised with them. And Sainsbury’s admitted that its printer ink cartridges were overpackaged.

And it’s not that all packaging is bad. Wrapping cucumbers in plastic really isn’t as daft as it sounds, for example, because it protects the cucumber. Not only does this reduce the amount that gets thrown away, it also reduces the amount of methane (a significant greenhouse gas) generated.

What are your examples of good and bad packaging? Do you resist products that are overpackaged or is it too hard to find a decent alternative?

Andrew says:
12 October 2012

Speed usually. You need to get the frozen fish in the box fast and the only way is roomy boxes. Don’t like it then buy fresh fish!

If you look at fish fingers they are a uniform size, so a box can be developed to fit exactly round them as the size will never change.

Fish fillets vary so you require a box that can accomoate those varying sizes.

Rich says:
23 August 2015

I recently bought Market Deli chips. The crisps (chips are what you have with a fish), are nice enough, but the bag is MASSIVELY oversized for the amount of crisps you get. I’d say between 2/3 and 3/4 empty – fresh air. I dislike this as it’s very wasteful, and a deliberate attempt to make you think you are getting more than you really are. We get thinner and thinner bags at the checkout, yet companies are using more and more unnessesary packaging. I won’t be buying again.