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Eco Friendly Packaging in the UK

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

How Environmentally Conscious Packaging is Set to Help the UK Become a More Ethical; Responsible, Biodynamic, Planet-Friendly Place

Since the Extinction Rebellion protests and the visit of Swedish teenager and activist Greta Thunberg to Parliament in April, public concern over the environment has reached a record high in the UK. Britons are now worrying more about our climate crisis and the global annihilation of wildlife than they are Brexit; the economy, crime and immigration[1]. So much so that the number of Green Party MEPs has risen from three to seven; leading the Green Party to win more votes than the Conservatives. Even across the EU, the number of Green MEPs has increased by 40 per cent to 69[2].

“Nearly half of the young people of the UK are putting the environment among their top concerns, and no wonder. They can see governments making decisions about their future that take no account of our climate emergency." - Jonathan Bartley, Co-leader of the Green Party

This surge in public anxiety has led to desperate outcries for governments; international conglomerates and even ordinary people to take action to save our planet. Particularly as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that we are not on track to meet our climate change targets[3] and as author Julien Wosnitza reveals in his book, Why Everything Will Collapse, we have, in the past 35 years, aided in the extinction of 75 percent of all insects and 55 per cent of all animals. Not to mention that if we don't make Earth-conscious changes quickly enough, in approximately 50 years time, 95 per cent of all soil life will be dead.

So, now, more than ever, we find that journalists and bloggers are concentrating on covering the environmental crisis; raising awareness of our country's eco issues and exposing the ineptitudes of international businesses whose actions are still continuing to be detrimental to our planet. For example, earlier this year, Sainsbury's was targeted by Greenpeace after they discovered that the supermarket received the most Twitter complaints about its use of plastics in 2018[4]. Also at the beginning of the year, it was revealed that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are the worst offenders of packaging pollution across our Great British coastlines; together they're accountable for 25 per cent of all rubbish found on UK beaches[5].

As such, pressure groups and green collared conservationists are devising numerous petitions, campaigns and protests, calling for supermarkets and local councils to do more to target waste and to stop businesses from "green washing" - taking advantage of our environmental crisis to increase sales by putting an eco-friendly spin on products which are not environmentally-responsible at all. Sadly, coupled with this long overdue constructive increase in environmental lobbying is a chilling and progressively frantic plea for all British businesses and citizens to step up to do their part to make our country a more ethical, eco-friendly, bio diverse place, tout suite.

One such Earth-conscious approach which is being championed by the UK packaging industry, is the research; development, and implementation of eco conscious packaging across all UK trades and sectors. Which is just as well because our habits of eating lunch "on-the-go" continues to generate approximately 11 billion items of packaging waste each year[6]. Which is absolutely ludicrous when you consider that recent research conducted by YouGov revealed that half of all UK consumers are willing to pay more for compostable and recyclable packaging.

46% of people in the UK feel guilty about the amount of plastic they use, which is motivating them to consider changes in their behaviour, including paying more so companies can find alternatives to single-use plastics[7].

Already, several big name companies are making headway in becoming environmentally responsible by investing in eco-friendly packaging solutions. Waitrose, for example, has worked closely with Huhtamaki and Saladworks to produce ready meal containers that are completely home compostable. This is in an effort to move nine million products out of black, single-use plastics. Their new fibre-based packaging is Forest Stewardship Council-certified; manufacturing them cuts CO2 emissions by 50 per cent (compared to creating virgin black plastics), and, as the name suggests, this packaging is completely compostable from home and they're fully recyclable[8].

Morrisons has also been making the news recently thanks to being the first British supermarket to introduce plastic-free fruit and veg areas across 60 of its stores; with the scheme rolling out to more of its branches in the near future. These "buy bagless" shelves are expected to save each store an estimated three tonnes of plastic each week; a saving of around 156 tonnes of single-use plastics, per store, each year[9].

Offering eco friendly packaging solutions such as compostable packaging and fully recyclable packaging, as well as affording consumers the choice of cutting out plastics altogether is only one small step towards becoming an environmentally-conscious country. But, as Philip Chadwick a journalist for Packaging News discussed in his article about the Waste and Resources Action Programme, these simple measures coupled with many others will add up for businesses and our planet. And having analysed WRAP's first year of acting on their numerous environmental pledges and promises, Chadwick revealed that, on the face of it, we have quite a lot to cheer about:

  • M&S has replaced all their plastic cutlery with FSC certified wood and replaced all their plastic straws with paper ones,

  • Tesco, Asda and Aldi have removed and replaced a collective 700 tonnes of polystyrene pizza bases with new cardboard alternatives,

  • Unilever, the maker of PG Tips, has upgraded their tea bags to biodegradable ones which can now be placed in kitchen caddy waste bins,

  • Lincolnshire-based IG Industries has teamed up with international food and drinks giant, Princes, to create IGreen; a new range of recycled plastic films,

  • Ecover and the Highland Spring Group are set to launch bottles that are 100 per cent recyclable and;

  • UK food producer Cranswick has already removed 703 tonnes of plastic from across its group by eliminating non-recyclable and non-reusable PVC plastic and polystyrene[10].

WRAP UK director, Peter Maddox, admits that "there are simple things that [people and] businesses can do to get things moving... [but going] forward, there will be tough decisions to make, new innovations to foster and investment[s] to be made - all at great pace and with an urgency that reflects the scale of the problem we are tackling."

Of course, making these kinds of changes is all well and good if you're a business with R&D departments and access to insurmountable funds. But for eco-conscious individuals; couples, families and small-medium businesses on a budget, what can we do with eco friendly packaging materials to genuinely make a difference? A pertinent question, really, considering that we've already smashed our EU targets for recovering and recycling plastic packaging waste and yet it appears that that's still not good enough.

Despite managing to recycle or recover over 70 per cent of all UK packaging waste since 2017, we're still 4.3 per cent shy from achieving our EU target to recycle at least 50 per cent of all household waste by 2020[11].

Environmentally Friendly Packaging Ideas

As consumers, it's our habits which change industries; sectors and governmental policies. Which is why it's so important that if we're pressing these organisations to make environmentally-positive changes, we should really be doing something ourselves first; both at home and at work to help make a difference.

One way to become more environmentally-responsible is to choose items or packaging that are made from Earth friendly packaging materials. Typically, the best eco friendly packaging solutions are made from all-natural, fully compostable components; like paper, wood and leaves. These types of naturally compostable products, unlike those which are touted as "biodegradable," break down in the earth without leaving any harmful residues behind and do not emit methane in their degradation process. Rather, they give something useful back to our planet; they help towards making essential, nutrient-rich humus which our trees, shrubs and flowers need to grow healthy and strong. So, instead of purchasing products that are packed in single-use or recyclable plastics, choose those which can be composted either from home or in an industrial unit.

Click here to learn more about the differences between compostable; biodegradable and recyclable packing products and discover which type is the most eco friendly packaging

Another way to look after our planet is to learn more about how we can recycle effectively because despite scaremongering by some who say that "all plastics are bad" and that we should banish this kind of material altogether, recycling is still an integral part of managing our country's waste. Recycling also goes a long way to helping our country save energy and allows us to cut down on our dependency of fossil fuels.

That being said, research from Recycle Now reveals that 84 per cent of us do to try to recycle; yet over three quarters of UK households place one or more items into their recycling bins that are not accepted locally, and over half of us, on a weekly basis, still manage to wrongly dispose of at least one into our general rubbish which should have gone into our recycling bins[12].

Admittedly, more needs to be done by the government; local councils and packaging companies to make recycling information clearer, but we must also take the time to master what we can and can't recycle from work and home. This can be achieved by reading our local authority's website as well as educational blog posts on recycling, such as our eco friendly packaging article on the types of plastic you can and can't recycle.

Eco Friendly Packaging Ideas

From left to right; reusable wrapping paper, seed paper (just plant in your garden and flowers will grow), wool insulation (can also be used as loose fill), reusable and vegan-friendly wax wraps, mushroom packaging, hemp twine, leaf-based bowls, edible & compostable glasses, and compostable foam

In the end, choosing Earth friendly product packaging is just one small step we can take to make our world a better place for our children, and our children's children. After all, there is no Plan-et B, so we've really got to start making positive, Earth-conscious changes, now. Particularly as Malaysia are set to send 50,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste back to the UK[13} this year, and that "biodegradable" plastic bags, it has been revealed, are still strong enough to carry shopping in despite being exposed to the natural environment for three years[14].

Of course, beyond choosing compostable packaging solutions, there are other ways to go green; save energy and reduce waste from work and at home. Some of these ideas are;

  • to become carbon neutral - or at least to try and reduce the size of our carbon footprints,

  • to try and avoid plastics altogether,

  • to eat less meat and not waste food,

  • to turn all electric items off; turn down our thermostats and invest in eco-friendly technologies and products,

  • to insulate,

  • to fix it; not throw it,

  • to buy local,

  • to grow our own fruit and veg, and plant trees,

  • to buy environmentally-friendly beauty; personal care and cleaning products, and;

  • to stop using ovens and start using microwaves; halogen ovens and barbecues instead

Have we missed some eco-friendly tips? If we have, we'd love for you to share your comments, thoughts and experiences, so please feel free to comment below or to send us a message.

Need Environmentally Friendly Packaging in the UK?

If you're looking to upgrade the ways in which you package your products; gifts or items you've sold on eBay, then please check out our ever-expanding range of environmentally friendly packaging products, here. From compostable caddy bags to cardboard boxes, compostable packaging tape to Earth-conscious packing peanuts and so much more, we're sure you'll find all the environmentally friendly packaging solutions you need right here. If not, just drop us a message and we'll source the types of eco-elegant products you're looking for.

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