Excess packaging What you can do about over packaging

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This article, Excess packaging, was last updated on 08 September 2010 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Home & garden articles.

food packaging

A lot of plastic food packaging ends up in landfill

Why is over packaging a problem?

An average household produces 23 kg of waste each week. Almost a fifth of this - 4kg - is made up of packaging waste. But why does it matter?

Producing packaging uses up natural resources, energy and water and therefore contributes to global warming. 

And once produced it can be very difficult to dispose of. A large proportion of food packaging is made up of plastic and while most councils recycle plastic bottles, the majority don't recycle other kinds of plastic. This means it ends up in landfill and takes hundreds of years to break down.

It's also expensive and adds to the costs of the products we buy.

What should shops and manufacturers be doing?

Laws require packaging to be manufactured so that volume and weight are limited to the minimum amount necessary to maintain required levels of safety and hygiene. 

However, companies can also argue that the packaging on their product is necessary for 'consumer acceptance' or for 'product presentation and marketing', so the reality is that very few packaged products ever fall foul of the law.

Large companies are required to pay for the cost of recycling a certain percentage of the packaging they handle.

What can I do to reduce the amount of packaging I throw away?

Many of the everyday items we buy come encased in layers of packaging. But there’s plenty you can do to reduce it – follow these tips to get started.

1. Complain about packaging

Don't buy products you think are excessively or deceptively wrapped. Complain to your supermarket or the manufacturer and contact your local trading standards department if you believe a product is excessively wrapped. 

Most supermarkets have customer comment boxes, or you can contact manufacturers' customer care numbers on the backs of packets.

2. Buy less

Before buying something, stop and think about whether you really need it. Buying less reduces our negative impact on the world by producing less waste and reducing the demand for products to be manufactured in the first place.

mobius loop logo with percent sign

This symbol shows how much packaging material is recycled

3. Buy recyclable packaging

To find out what materials can be recycled in your area, ask your local council or visit Recycle Now. You can then take this into consideration when shopping. See the Which? recycling guide to find out how to recycle everyday items.

4. Buy loose products and refills

Many products such as herbs, spices and sweeteners are sold in refill packets – so when the product runs out, you can refill the original container instead of throwing it away. Refills are often cheaper as manufacturers pass on some of the savings they make on packaging to consumers. 

Buying loose fruit and vegetables also reduces the amount of packaging you throw away and it's often cheaper too.

5. Reduce packaging by preparing meals at home

It’s estimated that 50% of our food packaging waste is produced when we’re out and about. Cut your packaging consumption by making packed lunches at home in reusable containers such as lunch boxes and flasks.

6. Reuse packaging

Some packaging can be reused over and over, preventing the need to buy more. Refill empty drinks bottles for when you’re out and about and carry plastic bags for when you go shopping.