Plastic packaging is a hot topic at the moment, with many in agreement that we need better solutions to reduce waste. Our guest and community member, Malcolm R, puts forward some plastic-saving suggestions and asks for your contributions.
In January, we discussed here on Which? Conversation ‘Who is responsible for reducing our plastic waste?’ and received hundreds of responses. I think we should be aiming to reduce packaging to only what is necessary. And, what we do use must – as far as possible – be recycled.
In his Spring Statement, the Chancellor called for evidence to tackle single-use plastic waste. So as a community of consumers, the question I put to you is: what is the solution?
Easy plastic packaging alternatives
There are a few key areas where I’ve noticed a lot of waste. Like liquids; do we always need bottles, or could it often be sold in pouches? Some places sell milk in plastic bags that can be decanted in a reusable jug.
And loose leaf tea and ground coffee are sold in bags, but instant comes in jars. Why is that? Why can’t we just buy refills?
Some packaging is arguably used for protection from handling damage like fruit, or to preserve it, like meat. But could there be times where we supply our own containers rather than buying contained food?
The same goes for ready meals and takeaways, which often come in plastic and aluminium trays and containers. I wonder if we really need these when we have our own reusable tubs?
Arguably, packaging makes the product look more appealing – a nice boxes of chocolates, Easter eggs and tins of biscuits to name but a few. But these are costly and discarded once they’ve been used, unless you can find a way to repurpose the pretty biscuit tin.
Making sense of plastic materials
When it comes to plastic, there are far too many different types in circulation, making separation difficult at recycling plants and adding complications to plastic waste being turned into new products. Here are some of the ways that I think this could be tackled:
- Standardisation: can we standardise the different types of plastic to, say, clear PET that can be more easily separated and usefully recycled? I would even argue that all essential trays could be aluminium.
- Markers: include machine-readable identifiers in plastics materials to allow automatic sorting.
- Contamination: do we currently prevent recycling by laminating different materials, using foil, paper labels bonded to plastic? How can these be redesigned more effectively?
What’s the solution?
It’s time to review the packaging we use, starting by considering its necessity: what could be sold loose instead of packaged? Does it need to be contained, like a liquid? Does the packaging protect it? And ultimately, could we reuse or repurpose it before we consider adding it to the ever-growing pile of waste?
This is a guest contribution by Which? Conversation community member, Malcolm R. All views are Malcolm’s own, and not necessarily also shared by Which?
We would like to hear your examples of packaging that you think can be improved – do you have any ideas or solutions on how this could be achieved? What examples have you already seen or heard of that could be used more widely? Please share your thoughts and ideas below.