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Who is responsible for reducing our plastic waste?

Plastic waste

Last week, China introduced a ban on importing plastic waste and debates kicked off on a proposed ‘latte levy’ to cut coffee cup waste. Guest author, Hannah, joins us here on Which? Convo as she ponders whether it’s time we took a bit more responsibility for our own waste?

Today was my recycling day and I diligently put out our waste. Admittedly, there was more than usual thanks to the Christmas excesses, but as ever, my mind turned to how to consume less plastic as I squashed it all into the green bin.

Waste in the UK

Last week, China introduced its ban on importing plastic waste, meaning the UK can no longer ship its recycling to China. We’ve been sending an incredible 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling to China every year – that’s more than a quarter of all our plastics – but now the trade has been stopped.

So, what are we going to with it all? It’s no shock to hear the UK Recycling Association saying that the UK cannot deal with that much waste. And Recoup, an organisation which recycles plastics, says China’s imports ban could lead to stock-piling of plastic waste and incineration and landfill.

And according to a report published on Friday, in the UK we use and throw away around 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups. Using these non-recyclable coffee cups produces around 30,000 tonnes of waste every year. Some MPs are now calling for 25p ‘latte levy’ on takeaway coffee cups to cut waste.

If you watched Blue Planet II recently it was hard not to be concerned about our passion for plastic, as David Attenborough explained how marine life is being affected. Greenpeace estimates that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, killing marine life, threatening ecosystems and contaminating the fish we eat.

Recycling has hit a low point

Last April, I wrote here on Which? Conversation about how few throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials – just 7%, according to a Greenpeace report.

And, the news of China’s importing ban on plastic waste comes at a time when UK recycling rates have flatlined for five years – Keep Britain Tidy says that rates dropped to 44% in 2016. Now that we‘ve lost our ability to recycle much of our plastic in China, the knock-on effect on our recycling rates could be disastrous.

Solving the plastic problem

In November, the Chancellor announced that the government is considering taxing single-use containers, following a four-week consultation on bringing back deposit return schemes for bottles. The idea has been backed by retailers, including Co-op and Iceland.

I like this idea as it puts responsibility on both the retailer and the consumer, plus it’s been proven to work in other countries. In the UK, just 57% of all plastic bottles are collected for recycling, compared with up to 90% in countries that have deposit return schemes.

But I also believe in taking more personal responsibility and this year I’ve made it my resolution to consume less plastic. Here are a few ways that I have started:

  1. 1. Using tubs instead of plastic wrap to store food in the fridge and special ‘bento’ boxes for the children’s packed lunches
  2. 2. I got a Sodastream fizzy water maker for Christmas so I don’t have to buy bottled fizzy water – I would highly recommend this to fizzy water lovers!
  3. 3. No more plastic packets of ready-sliced cheeses – my new cheese slice creates the same thin slices for sandwiches
  4. 4. Buying loose fruit and veg instead of ready-packaged produce in plastic trays – and reusing the small plastic bags from my local fruit and veg shop
  5. 5. Taking a reusable coffee cup to cafés when buying a takeaway coffee.

Have you made any small changes like this to try to reduce your plastic consumption? How much personal responsibility do you think we should take and how much should be placed on the government and industry to make major changes? Do you think a plastic deposit-return scheme could help reduce waste?

This is a guest contribution by Hannah Jolliffe. All views expressed here are Hannah’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.

Comments

An important issue in effective recycling is trying to eliminate mixed materials. There are plenty of examples of the problem in our homes. I’m looking at a plastic container that had contained ‘Glorious’ soup. It has no less than three plastic labels, one on the top and two on the sides. One of them states that the pot & lid are plastic and that I should check local recycling. Neither the pot or lid have a recycling code but the pot looks like polypropylene, which other manufacturers do manage to code. The plastic labels are shown as not currently recyclable and though they can be peeled off with difficulty it’s not realistic to expect anyone to do this. Other brands of soup are sold in similar containers without plastic labels but with information printed in colour on the plastic. I have no idea whether this is a better approach.

Theresa May announces plans to ease plastic pollution
-All avoidable plastic waste must be stopped by 2042

Well, I don’t want to have to wait 24 years. I hope this Convo, together with Which?, might help reduce that by 20 years – why should we not make a substantial impact on unnecessary waste within 4 years? Is Which? going to take the initiative with our help?

Yes Which? We need action now not in 24 years.

Patrick Taylor says:
11 January 2018

alternet.org/environment/why-glitter-must-be-banned

I must admit I never thought of glitter as a pollutant. Interesting figures including for tap water.

Here is more about plastics in drinking water. Thankfully plastic is also being found in bottled water, otherwise we could see even more demand for bottled water.

Plastic microparticles in water might help raise awareness of our pollution problems more than the marine pollution.

Missing link, wavechange?

Presumably any plastic microparticles found in bottled water are in those deriving from geologically recent sources, such as spring water and shallow boreholes rather than those taken from deep rock formations.

I wonder whether evolutionary processes will enable beings to mutate and absorb the effects, or indeed lead to the creation of new species that will effectively ingest plastic, convert it through some form of acidic reaction, and release harmless waste products or a form of oil. Not in my lifetime, I suspect, so it seems we have to stop making and using plastic and find the right way of disposing of it.

Even if it is not shredded or pulverised, Plastic does, over time, disintegrate so burying it – creating large concentrations of it – is not the answer. The Guardian article mentioned incineration but I doubt we have yet attained a satisfactory standard of non-polluting technology to take that path. And there is no point is substituting for plastic if the alternative is not environmentally better.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, John. The plastics we are familiar with are chemically different and would need different conditions to break them down. When we were discussing the subject someone mentioned Ideonella sakaiensis, a bacterium that could break down PET. Previously the concept of plastic-eating bacteria belonged to science fiction. We have not heard much more about this bug but it would not deal with all the other plastics that find their way into the environment.

Even the times quoted for natural degradation of plastics are misleading. Recently we have seen a figure of 250 years quoted, but that is under ideal conditions, and in practice some plastics could survive 1000 years or more.

I’m not sure that the ability of plastic to disintegrate is the right answer. The single-use bags sold in supermarkets will disintegrate for sure, but do they contribute to the tiny particles that get into the food chain, like microbeads?

I certainly don’t think we should rely on the propensity of plastic to disintegrate as a solution to our waste disposal problems. That was not what I meant. Matter does not disappear and its properties endure indefinitely.

I have a feeling that we need to look again at the possibility of using cardboard, including corrugated cardboard, more in the future [as used to be the case] for containment and protection, so long as it’s not impregnated with moisture-proofing chemicals and adhesives. I think the egg-box is about as good as packaging gets.

I don’t understand why the plastic used for food and liquid containment cannot progressively be standardised so that the waste can be dealt with more consistently without the difficulties of discrimination and separation. There could be particular reasons in some cases that cannot be altered, but in other cases it might be a matter of economy or manufacturing convenience where changes could be made.

One headline I found: Scientists Have Discovered A Bacteria That Has Evolved To Eat Plastic

How else could the bacteria evolve? What happens when it runs out of food, does it evolve to start munching other stuff? We don’t always have a good track record of introducing one species to control another species.

I forgot to mention that problem, Alfa, but you are right that we need to be careful about introduction of new species. Some plants that we have imported have become invasive species.

Even if bacteria that consume plastics naturally evolve or are created by genetic engineering they will not act on plastics in the home because they need moisture. I have samples of genuinely biodegradable plastic dating from the 90s and they have survived in storage, though they would break down in weeks or months in damp soil or in water.

Of course we have plastic pipes and plastic-coated cables underground, so bugs that degrade plastic could create mayhem.

John – I would support standardisation of packaging, though I’m not sure how this would be achieved without legislation.

With hindsight, perhaps the introduction of polystyrene should not have been permitted because so much of the waste is still not recycled.

Moisture-proofing is a significant problem. During this sort of discussion it is often suggested that supermarkets etc replace plastic bags with paper, but a paper carrier uses a lot of material and unless impregnated with wax or other chemicals to withstand a little rain it is not fit for use by shoppers. These additives make composting of paper waste much more difficult.

I am always a little wary of newspaper reports, including the Guardian’s, particularly when some one has “shared” information with them.(an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian.) As I can see there are no references in the Orb document to support the piece. It may well be factual but it would be good to look at the evidence behind what might be an opinion piece.

Our tapwater contains many contaminants, from the treatment chemicals to stuff picked up in the pipes..

I hope we are all wary of newspaper reports but even if we focus on basic information such as plastic pollution being a worldwide issue and it’s something that has reached the press I think it’s useful. In general, the Guardian seems reasonably good at covering science matters and at least the advertising is not intrusive.

When I was young, and all fruit and veg was bought loose from the nearby green-grocer’s, there didn’t seem to be the storage and waste problems that we have now, and to some extent that is because it was nearly all UK grown and only handled three times from the grower to the seller – first from the field or orchard to the wholesale market, second from the market to the retailer, and third to the customer. It tended to stay in the original wooden crates or cardboard boxes all the way through to the shop or stall and then was put in paper bags for the journey home. Tropical and sub-tropical fruits like bananas, peaches, oranges, etc, were transported by ship in big nets and placed in refrigerated compartments for the voyage [special dedicated vessels for the banana trade] and then on a train to the wholesale markets. The packing and containment was simple, cheap, and adequate, and I don’t remember many problems with spoilage. Perhaps the green-grocer would have to discard some individual fruits or vegetables but there was no widespread rejection of produce because of non-conformity with some standardisation policy.

The other day, pears were on my shopping list and I bought some of the better specimens available in Tesco’s which were more uniform in size and shape than the others and appeared to be consistent in ripeness. I suppose I could have bought four loose ones and put them in one of the thin polythene bags supplied, but, like many consumers, I preferred the presentation of the selection of four which would have to sit on the window cill for a few days until they were ready to eat. The pears do look good, but are laid out geometrically in a sort of Styrofoam tray under a hard plastic transparent cover and enclosed within a clear Cellophane wrapper. The tray and the cover went in the recycling bin and the wrapper in the general waste bin: three items of different types of material where in the past the green-grocer’s brown paper bag would have been sufficient and generally re-usable. I think we have to turn the clock back; we don’t need all this packaging, all this waste, all this mechanical handling. The trouble is there is no traditional green-grocery within miles of where we live although there are some farm shops and farmers’ markets around which require a bit of organising and scheduling in order to get there early as they sell out fast. Between them, in our part of the world, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Iceland. Farm Foods, Aldi and Lidl have destroyed the individual traders and replaced them with unwanted waste products.

The old greengrocer probably did not have a demand for perfectly ripe mangos and other large fruit that would be damaged easily. The supermarkets have created a demand for these products in their protective cocoons of plastics. I’m still happy to buy mangoes, pears etc in an unripe state and let it sit for a week or more to ripen.

Our town has a weekly market and when it is closing down there is often a fair amount of waste fruit in evidence.

That is true. We lived simpler lives without water melons, mangoes and with just the occasional pineapple and coconut. We learnt to enjoy what was seasonal. There is no doubt our choice has expanded immeasurably. Strawberries in January! – unheard of years ago, but these forced fruits raised under even more plastic are not very nice wherever they come from.

There is inevitably a degree of waste with any fruit and veg trade, partly because the produce is fragile, perishable, and some needs trimming. Some stall-holders let people scavenge among the waste and the birds have a good peck. I wonder whether the market vegetable waste goes to compost or landfill; I guess it gets swept up with the other litter and is tipped, but it’s not good to put organic waste in holes in the ground. in fact it is questionable whether any waste should go to landfill.

I absolutely agree, John. Next time you are in Waitrose, have a look at the fruit & veg displays and almost certainly you will see some unfamiliar produce that some will pay high prices for and others will experience when the price has been reduced by 80% for immediate sale. Environmentally, this is unsustainable. The reason that I’m opposed to consumerism and capitalism has little to do with politics and much more to do with the need to live more sustainable lives.

Perhaps the problem might have to get worse before it gets better. It looks as if there will be major changes in the cars we buy in coming years. Electric cars are flavour of the month, without sufficient thought to the environmental cost of battery manufacture and disposal, or to where electricity is coming from in a country with limited renewable energy supplies. Maybe a higher priority should be to cut down on travel rather than look to driverless cars where people can work while commuting large distances.

Time after time, everyone jumps on the bandwagon to manage the end result, when more energy needs to put into solving the source of problems first.

Doesn’t make such good headlines I suppose.

Consumerism – we are all consumers and have minds of our own; if we did not buy wasteful stuff it would not be such a problem. Education might help, but many people presumably do not care.

Travelling less is certainly something I not only support – I’ve commented on the waste that longer-distance commuting creates in time and resources – but believe will be curtailed of necessity. We must reduce energy consumption.

There are solutions, Malcolm, but many of them interfere with personal freedom. Education is only effective if those receiving it are receptive.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who survives without buying bottled water.

alfa, “manage the end result. I totally agree. we need to reduce packaging to a workable minimum, ensure it can be sorted easily and recycled, and, i think, charge retailers for the packaging waste they produce. Simply trying to deal with the current levels of packaging is no way forward, neither for dealing with waste not for sustainability.

The retailers will obviously pass on the charges to their customers. It’s not that different from introducing an environmental charge to cover the costs of disposal of waste, in the same way that garages charge for disposal of tyres, waste oil, etc. That’s what I suggested earlier in the Conversation.

Yes, they will pass on charges however they are applied, but it might encourage them to reduce waste to keep any charges down. I’m not sure what is meant by an environmental charge; I’m proposing charging directly for the amount of waste they generate in a way that might penalise them.

I’m keen that any scheme is transparent so that customers can see what they are being charged for waste disposal. That might influence buying choices such as loose produce and fruit in plastic cradle packs. The term environmental charge or disposal charge is commonly used by garages and fast-fit centres in relating to the charge for disposal of oil, tyres etc.

I don’t see a waste charge as an excuse to simply keep on packaging as now. I want to see the excess and inappropriate packaging reduced. The results will be clearly visible to consumers. Whether we need legislation is a matter to look at.

The packaging that is sent to waste would be charged for. Given the competitive nature of food retailing, and hopefully public opinion, I would hope that will be an incentive. By all means publish the costs imposed on individual retailers.

I would like to see as many ideas as possible put forward that show inappropriate packaging and propose alternatives. We should aim to reduce it to a minimum and find ways of ensuring that what is then sent to waste can be dealt with in useful ways, not just buried or burned. I hope Which? will join with contributors, recyclers, retailers and packaging suppliers to see how best we can progress.

When I go shopping, they let me discard the plastic wrapping in the store for recylcing and they jus scan the barcodes. This is at iceland

Lessismore says:
13 January 2018

I believe that you can do this in Germany. It would be good if people in this country had a better insight into what happens in other countries. Shops that sell produce without packaging come and go. There is one in Totnes right now. Rae Strauss (Mrs Green) of http://www.myzerowaste.com has done a lot of this and has also taken her own container to the butcher’s when buying meat. Karen Cannard of http://www.therubbishdiet.org.uk has also sought out and written/talked about reducing waste – which includes avoiding as much packaging as you can. The less you make the easier it is to deal with.

On a related note, this from New Scientist:

Climate scientists are in no doubt that global warming is almost entirely the result of human activity. Which makes it odd that attempts to predict how things will pan out have paid lip service to human behaviour, one of the key factors determining whether a sustainable future is possible.

A vast array of influences are routinely included in computer models simulating future climates, from cloud coverage to land use. However, a realistic account of how people perceive climate risks and alter habits or carry on as usual has been largely absent.

Typically, this human dimension has been limited to population-level inputs that assume we are economically rational decision-makers, behaving in a way that optimises financial gains and minimises losses. This conception of human behaviour is now thoroughly debunked.

A new study suggests a better way; it presents a model that couples well-established psychological theories of behaviour change with more familiar climate metrics (Nature Climate Change, doi: 10/gcp3jx).
Best-case scenario

The authors show that our personal decisions are directed by how we view extreme weather events, our attitudes towards climate risk, social norms and a sense of whether our actions make a difference, and, collectively, these decisions create very different outcomes in terms of global temperature.
This more sophisticated way of including the human factor in the model turns out to have a big quantitative effect. In the best-case behavioural scenario, global temperature by the year 2100 is lowered by as much as 1.5°C compared with the same model without this factor. That’s a great example of people power and could be enough to avert truly disastrous climate change.

In one sense, this is not surprising. It simply formalises in a computer model something that social scientists have been demonstrating for years – that the attitudes, behaviours and social preferences of ordinary people have a considerable influence on how the climate is changing, through energy use, meat consumption, travel, and much more besides.

The full article is here but you may need a subscription to view it, which is why I’ve printed most of it.

Ian, I agree with much of the article summarises and particularly in respect of a distinctive link between increasing individualism and protectionism among society’s more wealthy.

You notice the difference when making regional comparisons and the collective mindset of their inhabitants. I am not sure how relevant that is in making rational decisions as to where people throw their rubbish but you only need to observe the state of the grass verges when travelling on motorways to establish the collective mindset of a country’s regard for its own welfare.

Rational thought as applied to global warming is quite complex but it
involves certain aspects such as increasing technological reliance and complacency, a process of an evolutionary nature leading to brain atrophy and narcissistic thought patterns.

Rational thought at a deeper and perhaps more worrying level is a combined interaction between the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious mind that ultimately determines the outcome of all ones decisions. For more info on this subject, log onto: themindunleashed.com – The Conscious. The Subconscious and the Unconscious – How does it all work?

Ones culture and geographical location is also relevant.
For example, visitors to Japan will notice how litter free and clean everywhere is and also the extent of the collective mentality in such a densely populated country is remarkable, which could be attributed to its frequent earthquake and tsunami prone threats. Also it is the only country to have experienced the horrors of two nuclear explosions, a catastrophic event that has left a perpetual imprint on its peoples mindset that life on this planet is not sustainable indefinitely.

Plastic waste has now become a threat to all life on this planet. A wake up call is long overdue for those individuals who still think global warming is for another time perhaps on another planet.

When do we place the environmental impact of of the way we live ahead of commercial decisions?

We need to provide incentives to commerce, possibly legislation, because most consumers don’t appear to care – at least not in a way that makes them take positive action. Otherwise we would not buy the products some complain about. However, it requires thinking about the long term consequences but beginning with short term fixes. I see no point in making promises about packaging that might happen by 2042 when we could, if we got down to it, make substantial changes now.

I can see the need for legislation, but what I’m not sure what incentives could be given.

I am optimistic that recycling could be improved by standard bin colours and clearer information about what can be recycled, but a harder problem is to encourage shoppers not to buy fruit in cradle-packs, mushrooms in film-coated plastic trays, etc.

There are some fairly obvious examples of obvious waste, such as packaged bananas, that deserve to be banned.

Incentives (or disincentives if you prefer) could be charging retailers for what goes to waste, what can be recycled, and what cannot.

I’d prefer to see us cut down on the need for recycling and having national recycling collection rules for all councils to abide by.

Persuading shoppers can be by educating some on waste packaging, cost savings, or perhaps cost surcharges if packaging is used; If you want to put 4 peaches in a protective pack, and have not brought your own, have them available to purchase.

This is what I referred to as an environmental charge, and there are useful precedents.

Waste can be in several forms – usefully recyclable (say steel, aluminium, PET) directly into similar uses, recyclable but degraded (some plastics), waste that can be burned for energy (not necessarily good, but not all bad), waste that goes to landfill (bad). So an incentive to retailers, after being incentivised to reduce waste, could be to ensure the packaging they use is recyclable to the best level possible, and charge accordingly.

Maybe if exporting waste were banned totally we might see more immediate results in the UK?

To be positive, I have never seen pre-peeled bananas in film-coated plastic trays on sale in the UK:

https://gizmodo.com/5945306/pre-peeled-re-wrapped-bananas-are-the-most-wasteful-sign-of-the-apocalypse-yet

I’ve not seen these either:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1361666/Del-Monte-packaging-Bananas-second-skin.html

Poor thing. It looks lonely. 🙁

Nature surrounds bananas in a protective biodegradable skin that can be removed without touching the bit we eat. Thankfully my local Morrisons does not do this.

Here is a banana multipack without unnecessary packaging. Most supermarkets sell them.

An example I had already found, Alfa, although mine was bigger, cost 16p, and overlapped the tray. It is these sort of nonsensical examples, as well as less extreme ones, I’d like us to show to illustrate how packaging can be eliminated or substantially reduced. Whatever we end up having to send to waste, the less the better so eliminating or minimising it in the first place seems a good starting point.

More examples please.

I found a “drinking coconut” in M&S – a small nut standing on a thick card tube wrapped in film with ringpull and straw.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soeBvSSTNrM

This website suggests that we complain to Trading Standards if we find examples of excessive packaging: http://www.lesswaste.org.uk/reduce/think-packaging/

I cannot see TS taking any action unless there is deliberate misrepresentation.

Maybe Which? could help promote good examples of how pointless waste can be avoided.

I would buy that banana!

I am in touch with Which? to see how we can all work together to minimise waste and maximise the effectiveness of any subsequent recycling needed. I hope they will see this as a cause worth actively supporting.

Great. It’s something that we can all relate to and see the need for change.

I think we need to understand the issue from the retailer’s point of view. In any supermarket you will find a collection of single bananas. Anyone who wants four bananas is likely to pick a bunch of four, rather than take four single ones from the bottom shelf. All the supermarket can do is to put the single bananas with the sandwiches and snacks, in which case customers might buy one. Alternatively they could slip one in with a bunch of three in a plastic bag. The worst sort of customer is one who takes a bunch of five, leaving one lonely banana that may remain on the bottom shelf until it becomes food waste.

Like Larry, I would buy a single banana, especially if the ones in bunches will take a few days to ripen.

I don’t like ripe bananas so only buy 1 or 2 at a time. There are usually single bananas lying around, but if not I take a couple off a big bunch and no bag required.

And they quickly go over-ripe so unless you like banana cake, best to buy them as you need them.

I place unripe bananas in a room that is usually unheated and they will last a week or two at this time of year. I take two at a time into the kitchen. To ripen bananas rapidly, place them in a bag and leave them in a warm room. Ripening bananas produce ethene (ethylene), which accelerates ripening.

When I do the shopping, I pick individual bananas according to their ripeness looking forward over the next three days. This helps clear up the left-overs on the bottom shelf and gives us two perfectly just-under-ripe bananas each day.

I also select the satsumas that have green coloration in their skins because they are just as nice as the others. A lot of waste is because some shoppers are unduly fussy and judge things by their appearance. Stores could do more to guide customers though. Their ‘fruit & veg teams’ could also learn to handle fruit more carefully to prevent damage and bruising; they do tend to chuck them about a bit and to tip them into bins in some supermarkets.

Bananas don’t take much handling to make them look as if they have been in the wars. I often put one or two with a packed lunch and if one comes back it’s often quite bruised.

A Tesco store near where I used to live was offering free fruit for children and this included single bananas.

Lessismore says:
14 January 2018

You can freeze peeled bananas – which allows you more time to make something with them – eg a smoothie. The easy way is just banana and cold milk – can be UHT you can’t taste it – whizzed up together in a blender/with a stick blender. They can be much riper than the way you’d eat them. We’ve usually drunk them before there are enough for a banana cake 🙁

I will bear this in mind. I always seem to discover a stock of bananas on the morning that I’m going on holiday.

Yeah I do that to, because I live in an older house, there’s an unheated larder

Plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Copy these references into Google Maps and take a walk around:

Lisianski Island: 26.054873, -173.961609

Henderson Island: -24.350539, -128.306290

Lessismore says:
13 January 2018

Going back to Hannah’s original post about reducing plastic:

Bags for Life were those reusable stronger plastic bags that supermarkets charged 10p for and which came with the promise that when they were worn out the supermarket would replace them free with a new one and recycle the old one. Yet many people still don’t seem to realise this and many people don’t actually read what is written on these bags – sometimes on the side and sometimes on the bottom – to the point of still being (genuinely) surprised by it.

There are plenty of reusable bags on the market – many of which are sold at a reduced price by supermarkets. They are more comfortable to carry and have a base and so will stand upright when put down on the floor – so much better on the bus!

If you don’t want to advertise a supermarket then why not promote your favourite charity by searching out their website shop if they have one or choose one with a slogan/pattern you like – you can even have your own ones printed.

I must have around 20 hessian type bags, all free from one place or another and still all unused.

Ocado charge 5p per carrier bag, we take them with us when we go out, use them a couple of times, then return them to Ocado and get 5p per carrier bag back again. Ocado then recycle them into new bags.

I have suggested to Ocado a couple of times that they accept other plastics for recycling into new bags that we can donate for free. I would have thought clean food bags and other plastic bags could also be turned into carrier bags.

Ocado have yet to take up my suggestion.

When recycling plastics to produce new bags or other products it is important not to mix different types of plastic. Recycled plastic is inferior to new plastic and any contamination by other plastics would make it worse.

It would be better if Ocado used bags for life rather than single-use bags.

Bags for life would not work with Ocado. A family doing a weekly shop with maybe 10 carrier bags each time would soon accumulate 100s of unwanted bags.

They could cut down on bags by selling products in their original pack sizes and packaging though. We buy oat milk cartons in bulk that come in pack sizes of 6 and they can turn up as 18 single items in several carrier bags. There are many products that could be sold in original packaging to save wasting bags.

I have not thought about the logistics of online ordering and delivery, but it does seem a bit wasteful since there is no opportunity to use your own bags. Buying cartons in their original packaging makes sense, but I wonder how well this works with packing them into crates in the delivery van.

As long as the pack size fits into a crate, I can’t see a problem. Weight of larger items might have to be considered though.

I have bulk bought hand soap when on offer. They come in packs of 6 on a cardboard tray wrapped in plastic. So I order 6 or 12, the original packaging is removed and they are thrown separately into another carrier bag, mixed up with other items and very occasionally they leak. What a waste especially if they ruin other products.

Lessismore – A year or two back I compared one of the original Tesco bags for life with one of the modern ones. The original was strong, smooth plastic and significantly heavier than the newer ones, which are made of weaker recycled plastic. Having had new bags for life survive for only one or two uses, may be they should be called ‘bags for short life’.

I prefer to use hessian bags for supermarket shopping but bags for life fold up neatly and fit in pockets, which is useful when going into town by bus.

Lessismore says:
14 January 2018

Yes, a couple of Bags for Life can be rolled up and pushed through the handle and then put into the bottom of a bigger bag/handbag or pocket.

Various websites provide examples of overpackaging. From Treehugger, I have learned about individually wrapped prunes, peanut butter slices and the Morrisons individual prepacked bananas are not just an isolated example:

Excessive packaging should be identified and curbed as a start to dealing with waste. So should choice of materials. Do we need black PET trays that are difficult to deal with, when aluminium trays and clear PET mouldings are easily separated and recyclable? Should we have more products in plastic bags rather than filmed trays with cardboard sleeves? Plastic bags need separate collection, but that should not be difficult to arrange. Are “old fashioned” paper bags not good enough for much of the loose product we buy – mushrooms, apples, tomatoes……..used to work when I was a sprog.

So I think we need to start at the beginning – identify and get rid of unnecessary packaging, reduce the types of materials used to those that are both easier to recycle and are useful in recycled form, avoid contamination by, for example, bonded labels, and find incentives for retailers to support this.

Patrick Taylor says:
15 January 2018

Sadly human nature is a problem — from
http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/10/12/recycling-habits

The study, published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Marketing Research, found that people tend to use more of a material when they know that the waste is going to be recycled, according to Remi Trudel, a researcher on the study and a marketing professor at Boston University.

“We all experience this negative emotion if we knowingly waste something, but we also get a boost when we recycle something, knowing that we did something good,” Trudel said in an interview with TakePart.

The researchers had some people wrap gifts, while others took a math test with scratch paper. When participants were told the gift wrap or scratch paper would be recycled, they used two to three times more than the participants who were told the materials would be thrown away.

“The positive emotions of recycling outweigh the negative emotions from wasting,” Trudel said. “Because we use them all the time, the guilt in wasting is pretty low with everyday products like plastic cups and packaging.”

Patrick Taylor says:
15 January 2018

I would prefer members here would perhaps start with collating all the initiative, papers and groups already active in the field of reducing waste. Duplication of effort is waste in itself.

However an overall analysis might mean that whatever can be done by Which? is genuinely useful and also fulfils the original aims of the organisation. There are many many good causes and campaigns but very few to none are engaged in product testing to a marked and trustworthy level.

Sadly human nature is a problem — from
takepart.com/article/2016/10/12/recycling-habits

In order to make this worthwhile, we need some indication that Which? will make use of the information and how this might happen. For example, if the first step was to push for councils to adopt a uniform system for recycling, we could collect evidence of the problem of contaminated waste caused by putting the wrong materials in recycling bins and the extent to which this restricts effective recycling and the costs involved.

I have separately asked Which? if they are interested in a cooperative look at waste, and taking proposals further. In general I think they could use Convos and their commenters more usefully than seems to be the case currently.

As Patrick T rightly points out, a number of organisations are involved with waste – WRAP for example. I’d like the Which? thrust to be reducing unnecessary packaging – start at source, in other words and with the retailers.

Whatever the focus, it would be useful to know how Which? are likely to use the information. I could probably help with scientific articles that are not available to the general public.

From Patrick’s link above: “Three-quarters of the waste generated in the United States is recyclable, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite that, only 30 percent gets recycled.”

That’s an interesting observation. Thinking about my own behaviour, I don’t recycle paper that it contaminated with food etc. and I don’t recycle bottles of cooking oil, since they are difficult to clean. I’m never sure what to do with a plastic bottle of milk where the milk has gone off and what is stuck to the sides will not rinse out. If I’m uncertain about whether plastic can be recycled I put it in with non-recyclable waste, which is the best option but in some cases it’s the wrong decision.

Shame on you Wavechange 🙂 A quick shake with a tbs of White vinigar will quickly clear all milk solids from plastic milk bottles and one drop of washing up liquid soap and hot water soon neutralises your oily bottles. A good shake gets rid of a lot of suppressed negative feelings and, if the mood permits, an accompanying dance theme coming from the radio adds a bit of light entertainment to what amounts to quite a dreary routine household chore!

It’s not at home but a place owned by our charity. Volunteers bring milk and there’s no fridge. I have used hot water and detergent but some of my colleagues just throw the milk bottles in the waste, sometimes with the contents. 🙁 It’s difficult to believe how daft some people are.

Why not start a trend Wavechange 🙂

I do my best, Beryl, but it’s easy to be branded as a crank.

If it helps to save the planet keep cranking Wavrchange.

It takes a crank to start a revolution… 🙂

Very good!

🙂 The problem is that what we do as individuals is hardly likely to affect the behaviour of the majority.

You’re right, Wavechange . . . we have to make it a fashion trend and I am always perplexed by what makes these start [ripped jeans, for example – where did that come from and who saw it coming?]. I am not too despondent, however: constant dripping wears away stone.

Fashion is generated by the clothing producers to make us buy stuff we don’t need and consign other garments to waste. I have naturally-ripped jeans from 3 or 4 years of wear, so don’t need to buy them.

If one or more major grocery retailers are persuaded to substantially change their packaging approach – reduced packaging, reduced material types for example – many consumers may well just take it in their stride and adapt to it.

Some retailers sell much fruit and veg loose so you can select how much you need, weigh and label it at their scales, and avoid a stack of unnecessary trays and plastic covers in your bin. If you need a protective pack then, like carrier bags, these could be sold separately.

We all have cookware for oven and microwave (or could add it to our kitchen paraphernalia) so why do we need food in their own cook-in trays?

Well, Iceland [the retailer] has broken out in front of the pack so it will be interesting to see who follows and who is still in the starting blocks. It will also be interesting to see how much such action will convert into higher sales and public sentiment; those are probably the only things that will drive a change of practice.

Iceland has only made the pledge in respect of its own lines, of course: the big battle is against the manufacturers. There is an environmental cost to this: putting sauce back in glass bottles will increase fuel consumption in haulage due to the greater weight and the manufacture of glass probably requires much more energy than making plastic.

Addendum : I hadn’t realised this story had already been reported seven hours ago [see Alfa’s, Hannah’s and Malcolm’s comments below], so apologies for the duplication.

We don’t have an Iceland in town or anywhere nearby, but I will make a point of looking if their plans start to be realised.

I expect that Iceland will continue to sell raw meat in film-covered plastic trays though there may be benefits in selecting the best plastics for recycling purposes.

If they need to be in trays at all they could be aluminium which is better to recycle and does not degrade.

We have yet to discuss the impact of ready meals on the amount of waste we produce. At one time we just had chip shops using large amounts of newspaper to wrap the greasy contents but now we have a whole variety of shops selling food to carry out or delivering it to the door. I have just discovered that permission has been granted to build a McDonald’s on the outskirts of our town.

My ideal of a nice meal with friends is to share the cooking of fresh ingredients, but the supermarkets seem intent on selling us a collection of prefabricated food in aluminium and plastic trays that are film coated and sometimes in a cardboard sleeve.

Most supermarkets offer a range of sandwiches, often in cardboard packs with film windows. More waste.

Are our lives really so busy that we cannot cook a meal or make a sandwich?

Good news, Iceland supermarket aims to be plastic-free by 2023:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42692642

As discussed above, a retailer can change public habits. This announcement will take 5 years to implement, and only on their own label products. A good initiative, but why does it take so long? I hope their paper-based alternative to plastic will be recyclable, as many treated paper products are not. And do we still need to pack oranges and apples in nets? I’m quite happy buying fruit and veg loose. But abolishing unnecessary packaging – and cook-in trays as an example – is the start we need.

It would be useful if the British Retail Consortium adopted a constructive approach to packaging. It is true that we need a balance between food waste (life and damage) and suitable protective packaging. But do we need to film wrap a whole cucumber? We can over-complicate change by trying to cover all angles at once – we are still talking about a product recall system 3 years from the initial report. We can tackle unnecessary packaging now.

Sainsbury’s half-cucumbers are double-wrapped in plastic because the shrink-wrapped whole cucumber is cut in half [approximately] and overwrapped with loose plastic film.

Perhaps it’s time the industry grew half-size cucumbers.

Good idea!

At least Sainsbury’s only charge 50% for half a cucumber unlike Tesco who charge 60% or more.

Greenpeace UK suggests retailers should:

> Eliminate all non-recyclable plastics from own brand products

> Remove single-use plastic packaging for own brand products

> Trial dispensers and refillable containers for own brand items like shampoos, house cleaning products, beverages

> Push national brand suppliers to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and to stop using single use plastic packaging

> Install free water fountains in-store and water re-fill stations

> Support deposit return schemes in-store

> Trial reusable packaging and product refills via home deliveries

These look like good suggestions to me.

Most of these we have already proposed.
Why do you buy a jar every time too purchase instant coffee?
We need more than to suggest, we need to work with the different industries involved to develop proposals.

Yes – when discussing recycling and cutting down waste, a lot of ideas are recycled, and having different organisations saying the same thing may achieve progress.

I get through a lot of instant coffee (plus real stuff) but don’t see an easy alternative to buying 100g jars or 150g refill packs when these are available.

Why not refill packs? We fill our tea caddy and coffee tin from packets of leaves and grounds. I could fill a cereal container from a bag of cornflakes – I don’t need a box. Working together would pool expertise and achieve far more, assuming a working consensus was achieved, than going it alone.

I have suggested to Which? that if it uses member’s and contributor’s input with its own resources, and works cooperatively with, for example, WRAP, the recyclers, packaging producer and,the retailers we might begin to put a staged and pragmatic programme together to attack waste packaging. We don’t have to wait until we have a total agreed solution; we can start step by step. A big first step would be to reduce what would be agreed to be unnecessary packaging, of whatever material.

Simply replacing plastic with cardboard is a move forward, but not if the cardboard packaging is really unnecessary in the first place, and if as a waste product it has no further use. That just eats up trees, fills holes in the ground or pollutes the air when it is burned.

My big first step is to ask Which? to push for councils to standardise what can be recycled. In the meantime, I might write to my local council.

Regarding coffee, instant coffee is freeze-dried or spray-dried and is highly hygroscopic – it absorbs atmospheric moisture rapidly. An opened refill pack will spoil quickly unless sealed or stored in a sealed container. I suspect that this is why manufacturers don’t sell many of them.

Yes, we should standardise the way waste is collected nationally, how it is segregated, and to ensure it is all properly dealt with in constructive ways.

However, why do all this and not attack the key problem – too much unnecessary packaging in the first place, and too many materials. We don’t want to have to export it, burn it, dump it in the ground, Dealing with those issues would reduce the pressure on recycling facilities, make councils collection easier, and get to the root of the problem rather than just letting us carry on as usual.

Why not do both?

That is what I am suggesting. I am simply suggesting the priority should be to reduce waste at source, then deal with what is necessary in better and more efficient ways.

I have not looked, but I’m sure the information is available somewhere. I wonder what are the most common forms of packaging waste, and what proportion are technically usefully recyclable? For example, where do egg cartons, polythene milk bottles, PET drinks bottle, glass bottles, cardboard food packaging, black PET food trays figure? If we could see what were the biggest problem we could maybe see where to start.

I look round our food supermarket and see a lot of loose fruit and vegetables that you put into polythene bags, but then many more of the same that are presented in clear plastic containers, fibre trays with plastic lids (apples, pears, grapes, cherries), plastic nets of oranges. I see tackling this as straightforward and, if people need a plastic tray to put their produce in, let them buy one separately.

We visited this sort of topic 7 years ago, and 3 years ago:
https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/is-excess-packaging-out-of-control/
https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/online-shopping-over-packaging-packed-tesco/
What came of those Convo examples and suggestions?

I am told that one reason amazon, for example, pack small products in large boxes is to aid secure stacking in delivery vans. I do not know if that is true, but if so there are lest wasteful ways for doing it, I’d suggest.

I thought it was to reduce pilferage of high-value small items as they go round carousels and tracks in the sorting hubs. Since I can reuse Amazon boxes I am not complaining. I wish I could reuse their cardboard book wrappers.

Is there not some limit to how many cardboard boxes you can make use of?

We are not overstocked with boxes at the moment – there is always something to be stored, or taken somewhere else. I gave a quantity to a neighbour recently as they were moving.

From an earlier Convo – https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/is-excess-packaging-out-of-control/
It might not be plastic, but it is wasteful to the extreme and is an example of what we need to tackle.

Dr Andra Ion says:
20 April 2017

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!

Patrick Taylor says:
23 January 2018

Tax on wasteful packing methinks. That is plainly stupid in the extreme.