Alternatives To Plastic Packaging

I’m not going to pretend to know anything about materials science. I’m not a packaging expert. But as nothing more than a conscious consumer, I know there are better, sustainable, alternatives to single use plastic. I’ve seen them, I’ve bought them, I use them.

This is one of those blogs that I could endlessly add to as new products and alternatives come onto market, but at some point I have to get it out there and share the journey so far.

Living more sustainably is a journey, after all. Change takes time and we can only do so much as individuals.

The challenge is for big food and consumer goods producers and supermarkets (who control the food system here in the UK) to step up and give consumers better alternatives.

The links and info here are just a few things I, as a conscious consumer and layman, have found.

So what excuse do the supermarkets have for not doing this?

Why Recyclable Packaging is Not the Answer

I’m angry, furious, in fact that supermarkets act so irresponsibly when it comes to packaging then shift responsibility for their culpability to individuals. Even then, when we ‘recycle’ we can’t be confident that plastic in particular is in fact recycled.

Every time I see ‘recyclable’ printed on plastic packaging it enrages me. It may be able to be recycled but it probably won’t be and that’s not the point – the producer is still shifting the responsibility to individuals and that’s just flippant, cynical, greenwashing.

Take coffee cups as an example,

“Cups are technically recyclable, something that some coffee companies actively promote on their packaging.

However, due to the complicated way in which they are produced, the vast majority of coffee cups do not end up being recycled.”

Source article in the Independent

‘Recycling’ is the last resort, let’s not produce this horrible harmful single use plastic stuff in the first pace!

Especially when there are alternatives…

It’s time for a packaging attitude shift

We treat packaging as disposable. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Only in the second half of the 20th century, when access to cheap plastic became universal and abundant for producers and retailers.

This wasteful lifestyle is literally killing us and the planet. Enough is enough!

What excuse do supermarkets have not to use these alternatives?

This year,  my year without supermarkets, I will write a lot about about the plastic pollution crisis. It’s one of the main reasons I’m avoiding supermarkets. Together with the various issues when it comes to our broken industrial food system, that aids and abets poverty and climate change. 

One thing in particular is good at is keeping food fresh, while simultaneously being grossly disproportionate in the amount of pollution is creates at every stage in its lifecycle – single use plastic, largely in the form of cellophane and polythene.

Covering food in packaging that takes thousands of years to decompose is wrong

It could be argued that the volume of food that would otherwise go to waste due to rotting before getting to the consumer outweighs the unsustainable use of single-use plastics.

If there were no alternative materials available, that may be the case. However, there are alternatives. Aside from changing our purchasing habits, there are packaging products available that could replace the majority of single use plastic we waste.

Government and Retailers Must Act Now

The onus is on retailers and producers to use these alternatives before they get to the consumer.

That one act at point of sale would change the world.

It’s time governments taxed single use plastics to the point that they become too expensive to be profitable. Retailers will only change if regulators force their hand. There is only so much power consumer spending has to influence their supply chain and packaging decisions.

If the UK government is serious about Net Zero, and since they are so strapped for cash they have to cut public services and support. Taxing single use plastic would be a big boost to their coffers. It would have a massive impact on the inexcusable and unsustainable mountains of waste we create because of irresponsible retailers and producers.

We need to stop thinking of packaging as disposable and start realising that it is a resource.

The planet cannot sustain our levels of resource-stripping.

 That is an inconvenient and indisputable fact.

We will run out of oil (the raw material from which plastic is derived). During the lifetime of the next generation.

There is much talk at policy and decision makers’ level about the development of new technology to get us out of the mess of our own making. But much of it already exists.

The time to act is now. Not waiting in hope that some clever tech company will invent a magic bullet to combat our waste crisis.

There are packaging products available already that are an effective facsimile/alternative to plastic and cellophane in particular.

Your bag of salad would still look the same. But instead of plastic waste that takes hundreds of years to compose for the sake of keeping the greens fresh for a week, alternatives decompose in your compost in a few weeks.

Here are some examples of packaging that you may already be familiar with and others that may not be so familiar.

Compostable bin liners

If you buy can buy rolls of compostable bin liners for your food caddy. Why not use the same material for other food packaging alternatives?

Loose Food Bags

It irritates me when I see a display of loose food – fruit and veg, sweets etc. – but the bags supplied to collect them in are plastic!

I want a ban on polythene bags, replacing them with paper bags in the greengrocers and on the pick n mix counter instead.

Take Away Containers

If your egg fried rice can arrive in a carboard package, why can’t other pre-prepared meals?

This is a simple change a business could make, before it gets to the customer. There is a large catering supplies company in Bristol, Patterson’s. It’s where small producers would buy packaging in bulk i.e. takeaway cartons.

There are plenty of plastic products in the e-commerce shop, but there is also a good selection of alternatives. The biodegradable packaging maybe a few pence more per unit. However, personally I’d happily (and probably wouldn’t notice) a few pence extra on the price of my premade sandwich or street food lunch if it was in biodegradable packaging.

Take Away Coffee

When I’m out and about, I’ll usually sit in for my cappuccino. But, on the odd occasion, for example at the train station, I have to be honest and say I get that takeaway coffee.

However, takeaway coffee so rarely features in my world that I don’t carry my own coffee cup. I tried carrying a fold up silicone cup in my bag for a while, but everything tasted of plastic and several times I burned myself when it collapsed on me.

Great idea, rubbish product.

In the UK we throw away 2.5 billion coffee cups and their plastic lids per year (that was 2018, it’s probably more now!).

This is completely unnecessary because there are biodegradable alternatives.

Vegware compostable coffee cup and lid. Biogedgradable packaging
Vegware compostable coffee cup and lid

Sticky Tape

Wrapping gifts, craft projects and little fixes. We reach for the Sellotape. But, I found this great product in Wilko – plastic free Sellotape. It’s just as sticky as the regular plastic tape (you wouldn’t even know the difference). It’s stickier than the next best alternative, brown paper tape.

Plastic free sellotape and packaging

Crisp Packets

In our local bar, The Old Bookshop, I was reading the packet of crisps and saw it was biodegradable, compostable packaging. It felt, looked, and seemed like an ordinary crisp packet (if anything it was stronger) but it was plastic-free.

When I got home I ordered a box from Two Farmers. I never need to randomly buy packets of plastic covered crisps from the local shop again.

If Two Farmers can can sell crisps in this packaging, then what excuse do Walkers have?

Get the yummy crisps here:

Get the lovely thing - shut up and take my money
PS: This isn’t an affiliate link, I just love this stuff!

More Packaging Alternatives

Attitude Organic has a few blogs and articles on alternatives. Including this list of 8 alternatives – some are obvious and well used but could be used for other products, such as glass.

There are plenty of products that currently come in plastic that could be sold in glass instead. There are already glass packaged versions sold. Show retailers what you want by voting with your money and always choosing the glass packaged version.

Always buy your condiments and oils in glass.

Ketchup, mayo, brown sauce, oil, mustard etc. The plastic and glass versions are often the same brand and displayed together on the shelf!

You can always have a reusable squeezy bottle at home to dispense your ketchup if you really must have the squeezy version. But what’s wrong with glass? Many zero waste shops also sell refills of ketchup, vinegars and oils.

Glass can (and is) recycled over and over (unlike plastic).

And there is, of course, always the option of reusable packaging

What brilliant packaging alternatives have you seen?

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