/ Home & Energy, Shopping

Is excess packaging out of control?

Alice Judd in a box

Recently, I ordered two tubes of cat treats and two fairly modest cat toys. It arrived in a box I could sit in with enough plastic padding to make a polar bear weep. Has the world gone mad with excess packaging?

As comic as this picture may be, excess packaging is a major problem. It uses energy and natural resources to produce and once we’ve got it, it can be very hard to get rid of.

Sure, I can recycle my giant box (not that that’s much comfort to the trees it took to make it) but we could be stuck with that plastic padding for several hundred years.

I’m not alone in worrying about this. When we asked Which? members to send photos of things they thought were over-packaged we got images of everything from flowers to print cartridges.

We’ve embedded a gallery of the photos we’ve been sent so far and if you have any examples please send them to helpwanted@which.co.uk and put ‘excess packaging’ as the title. We’ll continue to publish the worst ones.

Who do you think is responsible for excess packaging? Shops or manufacturers? Do you think excessive packaging misleads us about the size of certain products?

John Lillington says:
24 August 2013

There is another, growing “over-packaging” problem which I find really annoying as well as dishonest. I refer to the practice of only filling a package to around two-thirds, or less, of it’s capacity. Yoghurt pots are one prime example and no doubt the manufacturers will make silly claims such as allowing room for settling (with liquid products – really?). The fact is, a year or so ago, only a few of them were at it so it was a simple matter to avoid buying these products but now nearly everyone is doing it.

Not only is this wasteful of packaging material, it is dishonest because it is reasonable to assume that a package is reasonably filled and it is a bit late when opening it later to find it is not much more than half full. No doubt they will claim that the volume / weight is printed on the package but most people would not check the exact volume of a product of this type. Frankly I would say this was designed to mislead and what an easy way to increase profits at a stroke by under-filling. Perhaps Which should run a separate campaign on this growing issue?

Mary Emery says:
25 November 2014

I have just fought my way into the industrial quality plastic packaging on 2 new printer inks. For once they were delivered From Amazon) in a box appropriately sized, but the effort required to get into the inks is completely mad!
First there is the shrink wrapped cellophane wrapping holding 2 ink packages (black and colour) together, next the incredibly TOUGH moulded plastic case which can only be attacked using a sharp pair of scissors, employed at first to stab a hole through the plastic, insert the point of the scissors to the whole – meanwhile making sure the the scissors don’t slip off the plastic and stab the user; then force the poor scissors to cut the plastic in order to gain some sort of access to the case.
Only when this is done can one carefully prise the plastic apart enough in order to get your fingers in to pull the case open – danger of cutting the fingers whilst doing this – eventually, and exercising great care you finally get your hands on the ink cartridge . . . well, nearly. Now you have to peel the sealed plastic film from the top of yet another moulded plastic box so that you can FINALLY take the cartridge out to use the darned thing!
I know that these things need a degree of protection but this is just plain silly – and SO wasteful. The polar bear would indeed weep to see it.
The culprits? Canon. The product? Inks for the Pixma MG3150.
Should I write to Canon to complain? Will they take the slightest notice? Somehow I very much doubt it. Perhaps I should just send the poor bear a box of (recycled) tissues instead.


Lessismore says:
4 August 2015

Sizzle steaks from Tesco’s in a plastic box which is much much taller than necessary was the latest excessive overpackaging I’ve noticed.

I think we need to keep on watching and complaining because as soon as we take our eyes off the problem the amount of packaging creeps up again….

Today I have received a big box from Amazon. When I took it in my hands it seemed empty. Well, inside, there was an incredible amount of brown paper, and at the bottom, a pink watch band worth of ~ £20.00 that I ordered.
Please see attached pictures:

I find this such an awful waste!

Yes; we’ve had similar. They only seem to have boxes in two sizes – large or far too large. Having said that, they do normally dispatch items like that shown in a padded envelope.

We had a similar box for a small rubber item. It originated about 8 miles from home and went halfway around the country before finally being delivered.

I wish that delivery companies had not adopted the term ‘logistics’ for how they plan their deliveries.

Logisticks is the name of the company I would form if I were supplying people with fuel for their wood burners.

One of the things that annoy me about over-large delivery boxes is that the item is usually right in a corner, where it could be damaged if dropped or crushed. If there is going to be that much packaging, the item could be put in the middle of it and well protected.

Oversized packaging is often used to defeat pilfering while goods are in transit, which is a good idea. One consequence, though, is that the contents are sometimes free to wander around inside the box and get damaged or spilt as it turns and tumbles on its journey through the distribution hubs.

About a year ago I had the opposite problem – totally inadequate packaging. I had to cancel an order for two large ceramic planters because on arrival they had been smashed to smithereens. They would also have seriously damaged any other parcel they came into contact with. The supplier asked me to send them back before agreeing to a refund but I persuaded them to accept photographic evidence. In a way I was glad not to have them because I could hardly lift them and each had the capacity for about 25 kg of soil as well.

Phil says:
28 June 2021

I had some 25mm plywood cut to size to make a workbench. Not exactly a fragile item but it came wrapped in enough plastic to fill two bin liners to bursting.