We all want to do more to help reduce the impact of plastic and other packaging in our environment – do you factor recycling in to your grocery shop?
We recently ordered 27 of the most popular own-brand groceries from 10 of the UK’s biggest supermarkets. We unwrapped them, weighed them and brought in an expert to help sort and analyse it all.
We found big differences in how much packaging is recyclable at different supermarkets. Between 71% and 81% of the total packaging (by weight) was widely recyclable at kerbside – with Morrisons the best on this measure and Lidl the worst.
But there’s still so much to be done. Our investigation also uncovered key differences in the recyclability of some of the packaging used.
Seedless grapes, apples, beef, lamb and salmon to name just a few. These all had predominantly recyclable packaging in some supermarkets and not in others. The message to those supermarkets who want to try harder? You don’t need to look far.
Black plastic came out as a serial offender. While often technically recyclable, the pigments in it mean it’s often not detected by the infrared technology in recycling sorting machines which mistakenly send it to landfill.
There are trials starting to try to fix this, but in the meantime clear plastic does the job just as well. This seems like it should be a fairly straightforward fix.
And here’s another issue: citrus nets. All the packaged easy peelers in our investigation came in orange nets with plastic labels. These are not just unrecyclable – they can also cause huge issues by risking getting caught in the machinery and causing a breakdown.
Unlike some packaging, there’s no compelling argument these nets serve any purpose in preventing food waste or damage. To find an alternative packaging solution for these should surely not be too hard.
Finally, we were also surprised to find huge inconsistencies in the labelling of recycling information. Different systems of labelling were used, and some items weren’t labelled at all.
Others were incorrectly labelled and still more had labels which were only visible once the food was unwrapped – not helpful to those trying to make a considered choice in the supermarket aisle.
That’s why we’re calling on the government and manufacturers to simplify and clarify current recycling labels, and make recycling labelling compulsory on all plastic packaging, so that consumers know what can and can’t be recycled, and how.
To help, we’ve published a list of tips to help anyone who’d like to recycle more often.
Do you feel there’s more supermarkets can do? Do you have enough information to make informed decisions in the supermarket aisles? We want to hear your experiences.