/ Home & Energy, Sustainability

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.


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:



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.

I’m delighted you have switched to compostable magazine wraps. I have a wormery and would like to know whether the ink used on them is suitable for worms please.

Good question Debz, we’ll endeavor to find this out for you.

Hey again Debz,

We’ve checked with the supplier on this: once the wrapper is composted it is suitable for a wormery, so please compost the wrapper first.

We do not recommend putting the non-decomposed film directly into the wormery as it isn’t suitable.

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.

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!

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

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

Debs says:
29 May 2019

Good move but probably best not to state a specific bin colour (i.e. “put in the green bin”) as colours vary from region to region e.g. my plastics recycling bin is green and my compost/garden bin is brown. Therefore initially found the advice contradictory – reading in more detail I now understand it should go in my brown garden waste bin (not green bin).

That is such a good point and one I will pass on. What they mean by green waste isn’t the colour but a general term for food and garden waste. I’m trying to think what would have been clearer so not to confuse people with green coloured bins. Any suggestions?

As has been said previously, this is such a muddle that the government must start to sort it out by directive to local authorities.

We have four bins but I was initially in doubt as to which one I should put the Which? wrapper in, deciding that the safest option was the black [or green for some of our neighbours] general waste bin – which goes to landfill or incineration depending on the disposition of waste between different facilities.

I presumed it should not go in the brown compost [garden waste] bin, nor in the blue recyclable waste bin where thin film materials are not wanted because the processing plant cannot handle them easily.

That just left the small grey kitchen waste bin which originally required food waste to be put in special compostable bags but which will now take food waste in any thin film material. I believe the process is a form of anaerobic digestion. This is now the destination for the starch-based wrappers that are progressively being received.


Where is the Which? magazine printed?

Is the installation regualted by the EA? What is it’s compliance record like?

Is it printed using flexography or rotogravure?

Is it printed using a solvent or water based ink system?

If Which? incorporated less images, it would use less ink, and would require fewer pages.

Covering it in a biodegradable wrapper is, I’m afraid, “greenwash”.

For those of us who do not know about the different printing techniques could you please explain the points about the production process and the type of ink?

We want an attractive and long-lasting magazine so I would not wish to see Which? compromise too much on the production values and images, although it is a bit graphics-bloated sometimes. I think the page-count could be reduced by eliminating some of the self-promotion pages and the covering letter if the recipient’s address could be printed on the outer wrapper.

The back end printing process uses huge amounts of natural resource, all to create a magazine which the majority of us read once and then throw. If “recycled” there is a high probability it will end up in a European or Asian incinerator.

A solvent based printing system will use thousands of tonnes of solvents per annum, much of which is released to atmosphere (which the local community can enjoy); some ends up as hazardous waste which then needs managed. The solvent captured from the print process is then generally fed into a thermal oxidiser where it is transformed into less voltaile substances before being released to atmosphere (the TO itself consumes huge amounts of natural gas to get up to temperature). Dirty solvent from the cleaning of the print cyclinders and ancilliary equipment can generally be recycled by re-distilling it, but this is normally a small proportion.

Water based systems dont use solvents. There is no solvent fume to be managed. However more energy and time is requried for cleaning. Time is money so this is a less popoular option.

The print run itself can use >8 ink stations – the more ink stations, the more cleaning, the more solvent is used, the more waste is produced.

The print run needs to be “registered” i.e. the image from each of the print stations needs to be precisly aligned in order to create a crisp, sharp image. Depending on the print technique the registering process can generate 10-15% of the overal run in waste e.g. a print run of 1000m can produce 100m of waste during the regsitering process. Again this waste needs dealt with. Generally flexo offers an improvement in this particular area.

In summary the more pages, the more photos, the more inks, etc, etc, means the more natural resources are used, and the more waste is generated which needs to then be managed.

I guess we all want different things. I’m not so interested in a glossy Vogue style magazine. I just want good consumer advice to help buy products which I need, which will last, be repairable/serviceable and which represent the best in engineering and materials.

If Which? is serious about sustainability of its own company then it needs to dig a bit deeper than simply putting a startch wrapper on its magazine.

Things they could do:

Challenge themselves to reduce the size of the magazine by 50%.
Conduct an in depth audit of the print supply chain, including where the printers are sorucing their raw materials from, and where all the waste from the print process end up (I suspect some will be trasnshipped)
Check the print facitly is fully compliant with existing environmental legilsation and is a good neighbour.
Ensure the print system is water based.
Ensure the print system uses the lowest number of inks possible – 4? They could be radical and return to black and white but i suspect that will be a step too far for most.

And that doesnt even touch on it current review system, which in my veiw is where Which? could makes its biggest contribution to the challenges that currently face us.

I do keep Which? magazines for future reference. However the point about printing is well made. I’d like to see the overlarge unnecessary (in my view) graphics and pictures reduced to essentials.

However, the vast quantities of glossy magazines on newsagents shelves are a far, far bigger problem but how can you legislate to reduce their content? What we might tackle is the weekend newspapers that are full of junk and thrown away.

we could tackle all reading matter by only putting it online, but that would disadvantage many who don’t have online ability or facilities and I prefer to read a hard copy to a screen.

There are many things that need to be controlled, reduced or eliminated if we are serious about saving the planet, but in my opinion the printed word should not be the priority.

My Which? magazines get circulated to friends and then kept for a rolling year.

It occurs to me that use of the internet is saving billions of pages of print every single day. A friend has recommended me to read a recent government-published report that runs to 145 pages. Years ago I would have ordered a copy; today I can read it on-line and skip the boring bits and appendices if I so choose.

More can be done but I don’t think Which? needs to feel guilty over the modest production quality of the monthly magazine when you look at lifestyle, fashion and home-making magazines among many others.

I rarely get a weekend newspaper but when I do I seem to throw about half of it away without opening the section. And only half of what I do read is worth while.

That much! I’ve just got the latest Private Eye. Far more content worth reading and very economically presented.

As long as documents are provided in pdf format it is easy to store them, can be viewed offline and the odd page that is of interest can be printed. A friend has just sent me a 219 page engine service manual that will receive this treatment.

I would be happy to have an electronic subscription to the Which? magazine providing that it is was a simple pdf. The problem is that pdfs are easy to forward to non-subscribers. Some of the alternatives used by magazines have encouraged me to stay with paper subscriptions.

Compared with the amount of free stuff that comes through my letterbox, the Which? magazine is very modest.

I would love to reduce the amount of junk that is printed and likely to go in the blue bin, unread, but agree with John that it is not the top priority.

Elizabeth says:
7 July 2019

Our sheltered housing development recently invited a representative of our District Council’s waste department to speak to us about recycling. The literature from our council, as well as the instructions on the bins, prohibit depositing potato-starch bags/wrappers in our food waste/garden waste bin. I showed her a Which? wrapper and she said that despite what it says on the wrapper, the bag would not biodegrade quickly enough to be suitable. Only paper (bags or newspaper) is acceptable for wrapping food waste.

So, despite your efforts, the wrapper will have to go into landfill.

It will depend on the processing method used by each waste disposal authority [usually the county council or a joint authority in metropolitan areas], Elizabeth. Some processors are able to deal with food waste in thin-film bags [e.g. bread packets] and in starch-based enclosures. As some have commented here, lining the food waste bin with newspaper works well if the contents are dry and the collections are weekly.

Charlotte W says:
8 July 2019

Ipswich will no longer accept them in their composting bins, so paper would be much better for us.
Our black bin rubbish is now incinerated and does not go to landfill.

Charlotte – Do you know whether the incineration plant produces energy from waste, and separates metals from the ash for recycling? If so that is very much better than landfill and environmentally good so long as the exhaust gases from the incineration are properly scrubbed and discharged safely.

I’m not convinced it is so very much better than landfill.
These plants all produce electricity, however there are very few that use the heat in a productive way which is beneficial to the community in which they are located (which is generally poorer communities as they tend to put up weaker defence at the planning and permitting stage than the well healed). The amount of energy in the heat loss is generally higher than the energy in the power generated.

In Europe these plants almost always link into a district heating scheme which makes them far more efficient. Until this is made mandatory in the UK I’m not convinced that the overall impact of these sites is very much better, perhaps marginally better, but definitely not very much better.

These plants also need the waste to have a decent calorific value, which generally comes from plastics. Introduce a highly efficient plastic recycling scheme which removes this material for genuine recycling and the incinerators will be hit hard, meaning they will need to burn more auxiliary fuel to sustain the required temperatures.

There is also the issue of elevated emissions during every start-up and shut down, something which the EA generally ignores.

Also the hazardous fly ash which needs managed.

The treatment of starch-based wrappers and other products does seem to be getting unduly complicated with users saying they are compostable or biodegradable and disposal authorities saying they are not. Why can’t we have some expert national guidance on this? The same applies to various other things that people wish to dispose of safely for recycling.

There is a fundamental difference between biodegradable and compostable. We don’t want plastics to degrade into smaller pieces – that is a big problem – we want something organic that can help the soil.

Agreed, Malcolm, but there seems to be confusion over what householders can or cannot put in the recycling bins. That is what I feel needs to be resolved a.s.a.p.

For those who haven’t read the link, this is what Greater Manchester say: “The only thing you can put in your food and garden bin (aside from food and garden waste) are compostable food bags with the EN1342 seedling logo on which are used to line the kitchen food caddy.“. Does the Which? wrapper carry this (mine went in general waste 🙂 ).

Biodegradable and compostable materials are broken down by the action of bacteria and fungi that grow as a film on the surface provided that water and a range of nutrients are present. They gradually erode and dissolve the plastic but do not create a problem with plastic particles. Oxo-degradable plastics rely on chemical processes rather than biodegradation and are examples of materials that break down into particles, which can be resistant to biodegradation. A familiar example is single-use supermarket bags.

I suggest that the only plastic bags that can be assumed to be environmentally safe are the starch bags used for food waste and magazine wrappers. There are others but they are expensive to produce.

I’m aware of that. I was passing on information from this website:
“The terms biodegradable and compostable are sometimes used interchangeably but they actually mean very different things. Let’s look at the dictionary definitions.

1. A substance or object capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms

1. Something that can be used as compost when it decays

This means that biodegradable items can break down within the environment with the help of bacteria or other living organisms. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for the planet. For example, some plastic bags can biodegrade into tiny pieces in around 20 years but they are still harmful to the environment.

I would challenge your statement that there is a fundamental difference between biodegradable and compostable. It’s complex and has not been helped by spurious claims from manufacturers. One of the earliest products touted as biodegradable was starch/polythene blends where the starch degrades and the polythene persists in the environment.

I was concerned with the outcomes and responding to John’s comment. The GM explanation seemed useful, showing how biodegradable and compostable are not necessarily the same thing. I suspect many people may think a biodegradable plastic must be good for the environment. Clearly it may well not be the case.

Essentially the issue we must address is ridding ourselves of single use / throwaway plastic items unless they can be disposed of with no harm to the environment.

I wondered about this also and started looking into it when the first one turned up.

They are by this company: http://www.tuv-at.be/home/ TUV has a lot of logos and certifications and it is not simple to work out what they are all for.

The wrapper comes with the TÜV AUSTRIA Home logo and the apple core but does not mention EN1342 or display the seedling logo:

Whether the bags are self-certified or whether standard recognised logos don’t exist I couldn’t be sure.

This discussion shows clearly how there is a strong need for both guidance and discipline in the use of terminology and disposal methods. In my starter comment for this thread I was not using the words ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ interchangeably but one of the problems is that they often are used thus and confusion prevails. Even waste authorities appear to be inconsistent on what should go where, although that might be due to the particular form of disposal and recycling process they have contracted to use.

If for most practical purposes it is not necessary to distinguish between ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ for household recycling purposes then I would suggest one common term is used and terminology on packaging is standardised accordingly. Ideally, the processing methods should be standardised too but that would take some time as much of the investment is relatively new. The householder does not need to be concerned whether the process is composting, anaerobic digestion or an accelerated form of biodegradation [i.e. not landfill].

It has been demonstrated that landfill does not lead to effective biodegradation within a reasonable time span and that even newspapers are still readable and plastic bags still useable after twenty years in a landfill site. This is because the compression and compaction of the material in the pit coupled with the sealing of the pit when full with heavy clay prevents any natural decomposition of the material. Landfill is not an efficient source of methane gas either and control of leachate will be an ongoing problem for many decades as there will inevitably be some ground movement [whether by accident or design] that releases liquid.

For biodegradation to work effectively, the conditions must be suitable. Bury a sheet of newspaper in the garden and it will not survive long, whereas a phone directory or a book is likely to be there for years. John has referred to a well publicised example of how materials can survive in landfill.

Back on topic, I wonder why Which? chose to use a compostable plastic wrapper rather than a paper envelope. Maybe weight was a factor.

Tea-bags are 100% compostable, you put them on your compost heap and they disappear.

BUT, what we have only recently discovered is they contain and leave behind plastic not invisible to the eye.

And that seems to be the problem with a lot of these compostable/recyclable/biodegradable claims, they are not 100% what they claim to be.

Is it time that all new products are subject independent assessment concerning their possible impact on the environment? We managed to produce teabags without plastic. Teabags and loose tea are now sold in packets with a composite plastic/metal liner which extends the storage life but adds to the waste problem.

I wonder who is truly “independent”, and sufficiently knowledgeable to understand the whole of the processes involved and their consequences to make a “whole life” assessment. People will find ways to game the system. The simple solution, to me, seems to reduce single-use plastic to an absolute minimum, replace it with really reusable/usefully recycled and non-damaging materials, use permanent customer-supplied containers, and tackle the consequences by a change in supplier and customer habits. If we try and be too all-encompassing we’ll get bogged down.

Change will only be achieved by legislation and independent environmental impact assessment is the best way of preventing manufacturers and suppliers from gaming the system.

Perhaps it’s time to decide how goods should be packaged to minimise environmental impact. Should magazines be wrapped in compostable plastic or in paper envelopes? I’m not sure which is the best option. Should tea/teabags be packaged in a cardboard packet with a cellophane liner rather than a composite material that is not currently recycled? The choice here seems fairly obvious.

There are some obvious choices and we should pursue these. Otherwise we’ll be waiting until 2050. Legislation is likely to be tempered by vested interests and I’d suggest genuine independent environmental impact assessments will be both hard to do and subject to similar pressures.

The simple common sense solution to putting less plastic into the environment is to simply use much much less single use plastic in our packaging. That can be done by consumer pressure and consumer action, if we are sufficiently motivated. The answer lies in our hands.

The problem with legislation is it is likely to produce a watered-down result that we’ll have to accept, rather than saying we simply will not accept single use plastic packaging, now sort out dealing with the consequences.

Sorry – we won’t have to wait 31 years until 2050! Only 23 years until 2042.
Gove said that Defra was working closely with supermarket chains through the Council for Sustainable Business, which advises Defra on how companies can help to achieve the aims of the 25-Year Environment Plan, including the wipe out of all “avoidable plastic” waste by 2042.“.

We’ll have to contend with vested interests as to what is “unavoidable plastic waste”. Meanwhile we’ll be discarding “avoidable” plastic waste for the next 23 years. That hardly seems environmentally useful.

If this is what legislation is doing then I’d suggest we need consumer action to begin now.

Perhaps Defra should forget the Council for Sustainable Business and look for advice from outside the commercial sector, bearing in mind why we have the present problems.

Legislation can be effective and we have phased out chlorofluorocarbons, lead in petrol, smoking in buildings used by the public, goodness knows how many herbicides and pesticides, and much more. It sounds great to make use of consumer action, but then we are up against people who demand freedom of choice and manufacturers only too happy to oblige.

We can all do our bit and I have been rejecting plastic bottles and single-use bags since I started to do research on biodegradable materials in 1986. In the grand scheme of things it has hardly been a drop in the ocean.

From Friends of the Earth:
“There is no excuse for this level of plastic use by supermarkets. They need to do far more, not just to make the plastic recyclable, but to avoid using it in the first place.

“Government legislation is needed to ensure all but the most essential uses of plastic are phased out, this problem is too important to wait for supermarkets to act voluntarily.”

Perhaps Which? should support Friends of the Earth and other organisations that have a track record of concern about the effect of plastics on our environment.

“It sounds great to make use of consumer action, but then we are up against people who demand freedom of choice and manufacturers only too happy to oblige.“. I don’t think changing packaging materials for “eco-friendly” ones and minimising packaging, removing unnecessary packaging, would really offend the freedom of choice. It might meet resistance from suppliers but……
“About Which?
Which? exists to make you as powerful as the organisations you deal with in your daily life

This is one reason I support Which? I just wish it might be better at meeting this aspiration.

Ian copied stuff about early Which? including this about Sheila McKechnie:
But sometimes the quiet approach doesn’t work and she invokes a management mantra she calls ‘storming, norming, forming and performing’.

‘Sometimes,’ she says, ‘as with endowment mortgage shortfalls, we just had to storm. And when I storm, I storm. If I come after you, you’ll bloody well know it, yeah? And I’ll throw the bloody book at you until I’ve got the issue on the agenda. Once I’ve got everybody angry and on the agenda, we then move into phase two, which is when the people on the receiving end suddenly realise they do have a problem and they have to sit and talk to us.

‘So we go through the talking phase. And then we go through the appropriate ‘norming’ phase – what have you got to do to put this market right? And then we see if they get on with it. And if they don’t, we hit them again.’“.

When tempered by this “protest alone cannot provide answers. ‘To deserve our seat at the table, we must do more than criticise. We must come up with solutions. We need to negotiate, to compromise to get the best deal we can for our consumers.’

then I believe this is more like Which? should be acting to “make consumers as powerful as the organisations they have to deal with”. There are an awful lot more consumers than there are organisations.

Mary says:
27 July 2019

The compostable wrap is a nice idea but our local authority will NOT accept these with green waste as their process is 6 weeks and these bags take twice as long to degrade.
I will try to home compost, but would like to know if the inks used to print the bag are safe for the environment – I don’t want to pollute my garden soil.
Echoing some of the comments above, I would prefer an electronicl subscription to Which? – I don’t get time to read the magazine and it normally goes unread into the recycling bin. But I do browse online whenever I’m thinking of purchasing items. – Electronic subscriptions don’t need paper, ink, plastic wrappers or distribution!

Hi Mary, You can request to stop the magazine deliveries and just have access to the magazine online. Drop which@which.co.uk a line with the request. 🙂

The other thing is the ink is soil safe so you can compost it without worry. 🙂

Fantastic idea if you have a compost bin, or garden waste bin but as I live in a flat I have neither. What I would love is to see you offer is an app only membership so you can cut down on paper as well as plastic

Hi Kay, we don’t have an app only subscription but you can request to stop the magazine deliveries and just have access to the magazine online. Drop which@which.co.uk a line with the request. 🙂

Hi Abby – Did Which? consider sending the magazine in a simple paper envelope?

Which? did, @wavechange, but didn’t run with it in the end for a couple of reasons:

  • Paper has a higher cost, both in that it’s more expensive than potato starch and in that magazines can’t be wrapped as quickly, leading to longer production times
  • Paper wrappers can only hold two magazines, and there’s more of a risk of the paper wrapping “popping” open
  • There’s also greater risk of delivery issues, such as magazines arriving wet, or empty envelopes arriving as the sealing failed during transit.

I understand that we’re still watching how the paper envelope space is developing though, and should it become viable we may consider a switch to paper.

Thanks Jon. I often think that Which? could avoid criticism if its decisions were explained to subscribers. I think we can all be grateful the the old polythene wrapper has gone for good.

Having been sorting through a pile of junk mail that has come through the letterbox in the past month, perhaps putting an end to this should be a priority for a more sustainable future.

I certainly agree with you there, Wavechange. I consider the junk arriving daily a real scourge and most of it, possibly >90%, goes straight in the recycling bin after removing the wrappers on some of it, taking out the free ball-point pens, window stickers, and scratchcards, and checking the contents of the sealed charity appeal envelopes.

One monthly magazine I subscribe to comes with its own weight of accompanying bumf, half of it inside the polythene wrapper and the remainder concealed within the body of the magazine. The publishers argue that it keeps the cost down so is justified. Do the firms and organisations that pay for this rubbish not care that their money is being well and truly wasted?

I’m not sure what we do to stop it, John. I’m attending a meeting in a friend’s house tomorrow evening and he has a notice requesting no circulars etc. I will ask if this achieves anything. The only free publication I read is our parish council magazine and the rest is carefully sorted into paper and non-recyclable materials.

I’ve opened two (paid for) magazines that came in polythene wrappers, which our council does not accept in the recycling bin. Both came with the same A5 leaflet advertising insurance, but not piles of junk.