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Which? Magazine switches to a potato-starch wrapper

You told us you didn’t like our plastic magazine wrappers – we listened and agreed. After research and testing, we’ve decided a compostable potato-based wrapper is the one for us. What do you think?

Last year we reported that each UK household creates 55kg of plastic waste a year, before taking the supermarkets to task and offering advice on how to reduce your plastic footprint.

At the time, however, we also knew that there was something we could do to reduce ours.

The plastic wrapper that our magazines were delivered in was recyclable, but usually only if you took it to a supermarket and disposed of it along with carrier bags.

Reducing our own plastic footprint

Some councils take magazine wrappers as part of their kerbside collections, but many don’t.

While we acknowledged this problem in our article, and announced that we’d be testing a more environmentally friendly wrapper, some of you pointed out the irony of plastic preaching wrapped in problematic packaging.

Introducing our new potato-starch wrapper

I’m thrilled to let you know that our testing was successful and we’ve now rolled out a new potato-starch wrapper that’s fully compostable and can be put in food or garden bins.

It breaks down into CO2, water and biomass within 12 to 18 weeks and complies with European standards on composting and biodegradability.

Some of you have already got it as part of our tests – thanks for your feedback, which gave us confidence that it’s up to the job.

We still had a surplus of the old wrappers, so we used them in April, and for about half of our May mailings, but from our June issue onwards everyone will receive the new wrapper.

I’m confident our new wrapper is the cream of the crop, but I’d like to hear from you. Have you got any feedback on the new wrapper? Do you have ideas for other ways we can be more sustainable?

Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

It does the job and is planet friendly, please carry on using it.

Following this to its logical conclusion, you could simply publish on line and forget the magazine. The disadvantage of that is that, to access it, one needs to have a computer/tablet and needs to fire it up every time one wishes to read anything. Many of us dislike reading for lengthy periods on screen and any time the web fails reading is impossible.
Your investigations can examine the various ways we all can be better consumers and planet users. This would be especially effective if you start from the here and now and look at this strategy from the beginning instead of trying to change the World all at once because we are in a panic about everything. Where do we begin? What are the first steps in this journey? Make it a social journey that everyone can join in.

A magazine wrapper needs to be durable enough to protect the magazine and keep it dry during transport and delivery.

The main alternative to potato starch or corn starch plastics is paper. Most of our post arrives in paper envelopes, but the postman has to be careful to keep them dry. Adding a wax coating to make paper more waterproof greatly reduces the rate of biodegradation.

I will look out for the new Which? magazine wrapper and hope that all magazines will move away from using non-biodegradable plastics.

As Vynor says if we all used electronic readers we could not only do away with the wrapper but avoid using, and disposing of, millions of tonnes of wasted paper. Apparently each household chucks out 38kg of newspapers p.a. (best thing to do with most of them). I’m sure we’d have complaints, but printed paper does seem an antiquated way of disseminating information; but I do prefer reading a physical page to a screen….. 🙁

Well done Which?. Don’t store your Which? wrapper in the fridge and deep fry it………

Well done, Which, not a moment too soon. 🙂

We could opt in receiving a pdf/other than paper version of the magazine.

@hrose, Harry, in previous Convos on packaging waste, particularly in supermarkets, many Convo contributors put forward practical and constructive suggestions as to how it could be reduced. From better ways to package, not packaging at all, using alternative materials, banning non-recyclables and so on. Has all this gone to waste? If not, what are Which? actively pursuing to address the widespread scourge of packaging pollution? A magazine compostable magazine wrapper is laudable but just one very very small step forward.

Hi Malcolm. It hasn’t gone to waste – those comments are useful insights and allow us to further our research, identify different areas to investigate, and lead to decisions such as this one to change the wrapper.

What Which? is doing at the moment is outlined in the news story: “We’re calling on government and manufacturers to simplify and clarify packaging labels, to ensure that consumers know what can and can’t be recycled, and make recycling information labelling compulsory on all plastic packaging”

The cover story/main feature of the August 2018 edition of Which? (the one in the tweet embedded above) is dedicated to advice on how to use less plastic and recycle more, while we’ve also written guides and advice online:

https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/recycling/article/what-are-supermarkets-doing-about-plastic

https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/recycling/article/how-to-recycle-in-the-uk

Almost all of the UK’s major supermarket chains have signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, but there’s clearly still a lot of work to be done – we’ll continue to support that work by using the comments and insights gathered here to continue informing our research and helping apply pressure to the government and retailers.

Hi George – We have often discussed the problem of councils using different coloured bins and accepting different materials in their recycling bins. Even if we know what goes in our recycling bins at home, it’s easy to get wrong when we are away.

I wonder if Which? has considered pushing for uniformity in how waste is handled by different councils. It’s something that could attract considerable public support.

@gmartin, Hello George. Thanks. I think we need to do much more than just label packaging. We need to push for less packaging, all packaging to be easily and economically recyclable and replace many plastics with alternative materials such as paper, aluminium and glass. We might use more energy to reuse the materials but that is renewable; plastics in landfill and the sea – even in the Mariana trench 11km deep – is irrecoverable pollution.

With regard to council bin colours it does make sense to introduce uniformity. However that does not address the key issue, that of reducing waste. Surely that is where attention – and public support – should be directed.

@wavechange @malcolm-r

Well that is annoying – a consultation on consistency in recycling and waste collection has just closed at the start of this week. On the plus side we might see some movement on it. https://consult.defra.gov.uk/environmental-quality/consultation-on-consistency-in-household-and-busin/

Wrap are the best people to take forward consistency in collections and have been doing a lot of campaigning and advocacy around this over the years. Indeed they are doing great work on all aspects of waste and resource use. http://www.wrap.org.uk/collections-and-reprocessing

@abbysempleskipper, Abby, it seems to me that much of what Which? gets involved in has specialist organisations dealing with specific problems, like waste, product durability, energy conservation, standards…… I would not want Which? to opt out of such topics, quite the contrary. I hope they will work actively in cooperation with them and feed in constructive input from Which?’s own staff and from its Members and Convo contributors. Just as important is to then keep us informed as to what is resulting, progress made, projects being developed.

Thanks for the links, Abby. What may trigger more action in the UK is the decision of China to stop importing waste.

Even if we leave it to Wrap to tackle the problems it might be worth Which? looking at the challenges we face in dealing with waste food packaging. The recycling number (resin identification code) is often not clearly shown and in the case of black trays is not a reliable indication of what to do with them.

@malcolm-r @wavechange

I have interesting news on the supermarket packaging front. I have just had news that an investigation into supermarket packaging is just finishing and will be ready for the July edition of the magazine. 🙂

@abbysempleskipper, thanks Abby. Look forward to seeing it.

Thanks Abby. Bananas have easy to remove protective skins, yet our supermarkets often feel the need to put them in plastic bags. 🍌🍌🍌

More interesting news from the investigations team – we are undertaking an investigation into recycling facilities. The results are due in August.

Tim Foster says:
16 May 2019

Great initiative. Unfortunately I live outside the UK so the compostable wrapper comes with an additional sticker which definitely does not look compostable and if I try to remove it to reuse the wrapper for organic waste I end up by all but destroying the wrapper! Is there a solution to this?

Move to the UK? 🙂
Can Which? not print the full address on the wrapper or is it the postage?

Phil says:
16 May 2019

I suppose this switch to potato starch is going to cause the price of chips to go up…

I have a book catalogue sent through the post every month which has no packaging at all, just an address printed on the back cover. It seems to survive,

Sending leaflets and thin catalogues without protection has become quite common, whether they are posted or hand-delivered, but they are free. I doubt that Which? and other magazine publishers would be popular if we received paid-for publications with torn covers or turned up a bit wet.

Juliet Payn says:
16 May 2019

Glad to hear about this. Well done, Which?

But I’m a little confused, as I had always put the plastic wrapper in my (kerbside) recycling bin, because the website of my local council (London Borough of Camden) lists “magazine wrapping” as one of the green-ticked items which can be put in recycling rather than general waste. Also they say not to mix items for food recycling with those for the “main” recycling (paper, bottles etc), but you say this new wrapper can go in either bin.

The problem is that different councils publish different lists of what can go in recycling because that’s what their processors say they can handle. The general advice is sometimes written as ‘If in doubt, leave it out’ and put the waste in the non-recyclables bin. If the wrong sort of waste goes in a recycling bin the commercial value is quickly reduced and it might be classed as ‘contaminated waste’ and end up in landfill.

Until our government faces up to the problem and says what councils must do with waste we will continue to muddle on.

Thanks Juliet! To clear up a bit of the confusion, the new wrapper should only go in your compost bin. It isn’t actually recyclable, so if a composting option isn’t available, it should be disposed of in your usual household rubbish. If it does go to landfill it will eventually break down and leave no residue.

Our council provides corn starch bags for food waste. Like the Which? wrappers, these are compostable and these can go in the brown composting bin. They have green printing and are quite obviously food waste bags. If I was to put Which? magazine wrappers in the brown bin I suspect that the collectors might assume that I have put ordinary plastic in the brown bin, fail to empty it and leave a note about contaminated waste. I hope not.

I would suggest you check with your local authority on this but if you are concerned you can put the wrapper inside the bag given to you by the local authority. You won’t be get a reuse out of it but it will get composted.

The more companies switch to compostable wrappers the more local authorities will accept them as the bag the food waste has been put in.

I will compost my magazine wrappers but was just wondering what would happen if they were put in the bin with green waste. If compostable wrapping starts to become popular I will certainly contact my council and ask them to update their advice.

Paul Reynolds says:
18 May 2019

At last. I am pleased you have done it but disappointed you took so long. I wrote to you at the time and suggested a change.

Searching Google images for “compostable magazine wrapper” provides examples of other magazines that have moved from polythene wrapping. It’s a small step in the right direction.

The plastic plant pot is the gardener’s equivalent to the shopper’s plastic carrier bag: we know we use too many of them – some 500 million each year in the UK – but they’re really cheap and they’re handy. “. From BBC Gardening. I must have a couple of thousand that I’ve accumulated over many years; I don’t throw them out but reuse them. They still get added to when I buy new plants from the garden centres. However, one independent nursery was on tv news recently. They grow in plastic pots but, when they sell the plants, transfer them into paper versions. It could be a bigger step than mag wrappers if others followed their example.

Our local garden centre has started stocking plants grown in coir pots that break down in the soil when planted – such a great idea!

wavechange says:
20 May 2019

Coir pots also make planting easy and avoid disturbing the roots.

Valerie Ross says:
23 May 2019

The WI and Tearfund were well ahead of you and I am very pleased that you have caught up.