The Great Packaging Debate

This morning’s news has been buzzing with talk of recycling, and questions of which of the leading supermarkets are engaging most effectively in the war against waste.

I for one am pleased to see such questions leading the national headlines, and it certainly made me sit up and take notice as I gulped down my morning toast and tea. It’s good to hear the BBC cross examining Heads of Food Packaging Departments, and I’m satisfied to know that British consumers are becoming discerning and environmentally aware enough to care about which shops are reducing needless packaging and which are gearing up towards the recycling effort. The premise behind the Local Government Association’s Survey of holding supermarkets accountable is a great one, and I’m encouraged to hear that since their 2007 report amounts of food packaging have decreased.

Despite improvement in some areas, the findings of the survey have also resulted in widespread criticisms of the various chains, which have in turn provoked a variety of responses both attacking and defending the key movers and shakers in the supermarket industry.  You might not have anticipated this one, but the British Retail Consortium’s Head of Environment Bob Gordon spoke out in favour of some packaging, highlighting that the survey failed to recognise the crucial role packaging plays in preserving food: “It’s a nonsense to suggest that retailers swathe their goods in masses of unnecessary packaging. This would simply be a pointless cost. Packaging reduces waste by protecting and preserving products.”

Here at EthicalSuperstore, the protection and preservation of the products that we send out to you is certainly at the forefront of our priorities, meaning that a certain amount of packaging is needed. At the start of the year we asked you for thoughts and feedback on the EthicalSuperstore experience with Our 2009 Pledge to You, and the scale of your response was fantastic. One theme which reappeared several times was this question of the environmental ethics of packaging, and in particular the use of polystyrene packaging. The good news we’ve got here is that our padding isn’t polystyrene; our favoured way of protecting the goods that we send out to you is the fully biodegradable Eco-Flo packaging.

It’s best disposed of in your compost bin, but for the purposes of  a video demonstration we decided that placing the Eco-Flo under running water would be a speedier and more engaging way to show how fast this packaging will disappear in damp conditions. It’s a completely natural starch product, and releases no harmful bi-products into the environment as it degrades  – Check out the video clip, we’re sure that you’ll be as impressed as we were.

With environmentally friendly disposal being addressed, questions of the reduction of waste and the reuse of packaging are still out there. We’re always delighted when companies make positive moves in this direction, check out Green & Blacks’ range of Easter Eggs for an example of reduced packaging to reduce unnecessary waste, and Booja Booja’s Easter treats come inside an attractive egg-shaped trinket box rather that is intended to be kept rather than thrown away.

As well as more conventional modes of recycling, we also love innovative products which reuse items which might often be considered to be waste. Doy Bags bags and accessories are particular fashion favourites of ours, and Green Glass do a great job of reusing drinks bottles to make novelty goblets.

There are so many different approaches that can be taken towards packaging that it’s impossible to say exactly what the correct angle is. A certain amount of pakaging is an inevitability, but a combination of reduction, recycling and reuse has got to be the key to environmental sucess.

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  • Caroline Devlin

    It’s great that these can be dissolved in water in order to dispose of them, but how wasteful is it to use so much water?!

    • Leanne Johnson

      Hi Caroline, this isn’t how it is normally disposed of and is for the purposes of demonstrating: “It’s best disposed of in your compost bin, but for the purposes of a video demonstration we decided that placing the Eco-Flo under running water would be a speedier and more engaging way to show how fast this packaging will disappear in damp conditions”. The packaging degrades in compost over time.