Packaging plays a vital role in protecting and preserving our products and much has already been done to optimise it.
Washing-up liquid bottles are 58% lighter, cardboard boxes are 14% lighter and drinks cans are 50% lighter than in the 1970s. However, we can also do our bit to reduce and recycle packaging by following some of the tips on the smart shopping page.
What is being done to improve packaging?
In most cases it is in the interest of product manufacturers to cut out unnecessary packaging. It saves them money and helps them meet industry agreements.
There are a number of ways that producers can reduce their packaging:
In some cases the environmental impact can actually be reduced by using more packaging e.g. 20% of grapes were wasted when they were sold as loose bunches. Most are now packed in bags or boxes, so fewer grapes get squashed and they stay fresher for longer.
More recently many organisations have been working with Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to reduce both household food waste and the impact of packaging resulting in a voluntary agreement known as the Courtauld Commitment. For further details please visit www.wrap.org.uk/courtauld
Why do we need packaging?
Packaging plays an essential role in protecting and containing the products we buy until they reach our homes. It also provides us with important product information about nutrition and storage for example.
The average UK household buys 3 tonnes of products a year. All these products need to be protected on their journey from farm or factory to people's homes so they arrive in good condition so that we can still use them. The packaging protects the products and stops them and the energy, water and materials used to make them from going to waste.
In the case of food and drink items, packaging continues to protect the items once they are in the home and can extend the period when they are safe to eat and at their best.
Packaging also allows packs to be resealed if all the contents are not needed in one go and well designed food packaging can stop moisture loss from items such as root vegetables and cucumbers which helps to keep them fresh for much longer.
The factsheets below show how some of our biggest companies have been working to improve their packaging and suggest how consumers can make choices which will lead to them having the products they need in good condition and end up with less packaging in their bins.
New recycling labels
You may have noticed some recycling symbols appearing on packaging. They are designed to help you know how each part of the packaging can be recycled.
The On Pack Recycling Labelling (OPRL) scheme was launched in March 2009 by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) with support from WRAP, in response to requests from shoppers for more standardised and easy to understand advice on what products can be recycled.
It is being used on over 60,000 product lines by over 100 grocery and non-grocery, brand and retail members, including Boots, B&Q, Heinz, Innocent, John Lewis, Pets at Home, Sainsbury's and Wilkinsons. A full list can be found at www.oprl.org.uk/members
How does it work?
The label shows whether the packaging is likely to be recycled in your area using three simple symbols.
1. 'widely recycled' labels are used where more than 65% of local authorities collect that packaging material for recycling from the kerbside. However, it does not necessarily mean that schemes can accept the material so do still check with your local authority.
2. "check local recycling" label on a black background means that the specific packaging material is collected by between 15% and 65% of local authorities at the kerbside. It's important to check locally for these materials.
3. "not currently recycled" label, the crossed-through symbol on a black background means that fewer than 15% of local authorities currently collect the material - it's worth checking to see if yours is one of them.
To find out what can be recycled in your area visit www.recyclenow.com and simply enter your postcode.