In the UK, almost half of all our plastic packaging comes from the grocery retail sector – in other words, food packaging.
To help reduce the 30kg of plastic that every one of us throws away each year, cutting the amount of food packaging we use is a great place to start.
But where exactly do you start? Here are six kinds of food packaging that you can try to avoid right away.
1. Plastic water bottles
In ‘Disappointing But Not Surprising’ news, plastic bottles are now the third most common item of rubbish found in the world’s oceans, closely followed by plastic bottle caps. Switching to reusable bottles that can be refilled – apps like Refill or Tap show you where to top up if you’re out and about – can help cut the 594,000 tonnes of plastic bottles that we throw away annually.
Read our review of the best resuable water bottles.
2. Black plastic food trays
When plastic gets recycled, sorting machines use infrared lasers to identify what type of plastic it is. However, black plastic is difficult for the lasers to identify, so it generally ends up not being recycled. A new type of black plastic is being rolled out that can be picked up by infrared, but check if your local council can process it before putting any black plastic, such as takeaway sushi trays, into your recycling bin.
3. Individually wrapped fruit and vegetables
Greenpeace recently highlighted the ridiculous rise of individually wrapped produce; supporters sent in images of oranges, bananas and even coconuts wrapped in plastic! There is an argument that plastic wrapping reduces food waste – cucumbers stay fresh for 15 days rather than five, for example – but buying loose fruit and veg, switching to a veg box delivery service, and asking your supermarket what they’re doing to comply with the UK Plastics Pact can help stop the practice of unnecessarily wrapping your five-a-day.
4. Food pouches
Whether you’re feeding a hungry baby on the go, or treating your cat to a fancy dinner, food and drink pouches have become a staple in our shopping baskets. The problem is, these pouches are incredibly hard to recycle; they’re made out of several different layers that need to be separated before being recycled. The result? Billions end up in landfill every year. Most local councils don’t recycle them, but some pouches can now be collected and recycled by a company called TerraCycle.
5. Pizza boxes
Popping a pizza in the oven may be a cheaper option than ordering one via delivery, but the packaging is a different story. Many pizza bases are still made from polystyrene, which cannot be recycled, and if the cardboard box is contaminated with grease, it has to be thrown away or incinerated. Does the box have a clear film window? Check it can be removed from the cardboard and recycled. If not, the whole box may end up in landfill, even though both parts could’ve been recycled separately.
6. Coffee pods and capsules
Coffee pods are considered a huge environmental hazard; 20 billion are now used worldwide and many end up in landfill where it can take 500 years for them to break down. Although some brands can be recycled, coffee drinkers have to drop them off at collection points or arrange for them to be collected – Nestlé admits only 27.8% of Nespresso capsules are currently recycled. Compostable coffee pods or refillable capsules are one answer, or you could stick to takeaway coffees to keep you fuelled up – just don’t forget your reusable cup if you do.
Read our review of the best reusable coffee cups.
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Paul Allen is a former BBC environmental editor and a director at Lark. Find him on Twitter @larkingly