A recent study by Which? has shown that many of our favourite foods such as cheese, crisps and chocolate are not packaged in recyclable packaging. For many, it has come as a surprise that well-known brands have not yet committed to sustainable alternatives.
Which? looked into 89 of the UK’s most well-known grocery brands and has found that most of them are coming up short with their environmental efforts.
The two main issues are that packaging is either totally non-recyclable (or extremely difficult to recycle) or, where packaging is recyclable, labels are unclear and confusing.
Which? found that, of the products they studied, only 34% of packaging was totally recyclable, leaving a huge two thirds of packets condemned to landfill. The worst culprit was found to be crisp packets, as only 3% of them were recyclable.
Similarly, only one third of the chocolate wrappers tested were recyclable. Mars’ M&Ms, along with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars, Twirl Bites and Bitsa Wispa were amongst those that were found not to be recyclable from home at all. Bad news for those of us with a sweet tooth!
There were also issues in the world of cheese, as snack packs of Cathedral City and Babybel are packaged in plastic net bags. These are not only hard to recycle, but can cause issues if they become tangled in recycling machinery.
A Lack of Labelling
An additional problem is that where products were able to be recycled from home, the packaging lacked the appropriate labelling and directions on how to do so. Which? found that 41% of the recyclable packaging had no relevant labelling. Ambiguous labelling poses a real barrier to effective recycling at home, and it is a shame that recyclable packaging may end up in landfill because consumers are not being directed correctly.
Confusing labelling has long been an issue within the packaging industry, leaving consumers unsure of how to dispose of items correctly, and in some cases even being misled by vague labels into believing that non-recyclable products can be recycled. A 2019 study from RECOUP found that despite having good intentions, recycling efforts were being blocked by confusing labels.
When it comes to recycling, it may surprise people to know that there is no nationwide strategy. Local authorities accept and process different materials differently. This means that a household in one area may be able to recycle something whereas another household in a different area cannot. So, certain labels are only applicable to specific areas. A recycling sign does not necessarily mean a packet will be accepted for recycling by your particular local authority.
Clearly, the waters surrounding packaging labels are very muddy, and following their study, Which? has appealed to the government for clearer labelling. This will hopefully make things easier for consumers to understand whether packaging is recyclable, and how they need to recycle it. There is also more light at the end of the tunnel, as the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) has launched its new recycling label rules, with an aim to move the majority of packaging into a binary labelling system: “Recycle” or “Don’t Recycle”. This is to be implemented over the next 3 years.
So What’s The Good News?
Happily, Which? also found an area that is excelling in being eco-friendly. When it came to fizzy drinks, the packaging was all found to be 100% recyclable and the labelling on all products was correct.
Further, many of the companies involved in the study have made commitments to make more sustainable choices. Nestle is committing to making 100% of it’s packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. Similarly, Kellogg’s, who make Pringles, have promised to make their packaging 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. They have recently started trialling 90% paper-based Pringles tubes in select Tesco stores.
Additionally, Babybel are setting up a UK and Ireland partnership with waste disposal company TerraCycle. So, it does seem that larger brands are taking notice of the increasing pressure from consumers to use recyclable packaging. A greener future could well be on the horizon. ELLIE BALDERSON, MARKETING