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How to cut down on food packaging waste

Most of us are doing our bit for the planet by cutting down on single-use plastics. Some changes are easy to make, like taking a tote bag to the shops or a reusable cup to the coffee shop, and – of course – diligently sorting our kerb-side recycling. But cutting out plastic packaging altogether is trickier.

Luckily, there are ways you can slash your packaging use without giving up your favourite foods. From switching to refills and loose produce where possible to visiting recycling points for soft plastics like crisp packets and bread wrappers, we’ll guide you through the latest eco-friendly options.

Read on for our complete guide to cutting down on and recycling your food packaging…

How to cut down on food packaging waste

What can you recycle when it comes to food packaging?

What you can recycle often depends on your local authority. Glass, cardboard and tin cans are widely recycled, so most councils should either collect these or offer recycling stations and bottle banks at convenient locations.

Tetra Pak cartons (e.g. for plant milks and orange juice) are collected by many, but not all, local authorities. Check the map on the TetraPak website.

Plastic food packaging is divided into seven different types, depending which types of plastics were used to make them. To identify which type you’re dealing with, look for a number from 1-7 inside the triangle recycling symbol. The easiest, and most commonly recycled, are types 1, 2 and 5, which includes items like strawberry punnets, fizzy drink bottles, butter tubs, washing up bottles and ready-meal containers. Check with your local authority to confirm which plastic types they collect for recycling, and remember to give the items a quick rinse before you pop them in your recycling.

What can’t you recycle when it comes to food packaging?

Try to avoid black plastic trays for meat and ready-meals as these are notoriously hard to recycle. Many supermarkets have eliminated them or are phasing them out.  Ditto, disposable coffee cups which have a plasticised coating on the inside. Take a reusable cup for your next caffeine fix.

Until now, wrappers such as crisp packets and salad bags, known as soft plastics, have been difficult to recycle. Most councils don’t take them, and they’re not as easy to recycle and turn into new products. Luckily, this is changing.

Where can I recycle soft plastics?

Soft plastics are one of the most common types of packaging. Think scrunchy packaging like crisp packets, salad bags, bread bags, sweet and biscuit wrappers, or fruit and vegetable packaging. Councils don’t usually collect them, so most soft plastics go straight in the bin. “As little as six per cent of this problematic plastic is collected and recycled in the UK, despite making up nearly a quarter of all plastic packaging by weight,” says Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP .

You can now recycle soft plastics at all large Tesco stores. Bag up your plastic film, fruit and vegetable packaging, crisp packets and salad bags and bring them to the in-store collection point. Once collected by Tesco, the plastic is sent for cleaning and sorting, and then as much as 80% is recycled (Tesco is working with recyclers to explore what can be done with the remaining 20%).

What else can I do to cut food packaging waste?

There are lots more changes you can make. Take shopping bags to the supermarket (or request a bagless delivery). Bring reusable produce bags and fill them with loose fruit and veg.

If you want to use less plastic, swap plastic bottles of condiments and sauces, like mayo, ketchup or soy sauce, or tubs of spreads like peanut butter for their glass equivalent.

Visit a refill store. You don’t need fancy glass jars, any clean tubs and containers will do. Reuse single-use containers once they’re empty, such as refilling spice jars, soap dispensers or washing-up bottles. And remember, refills are no longer just for generic staples like pasta, grains and dried fruit – you’ll discover that you can refill a whole range of items like toiletries, condiments and snack items.

tesco loop

Another route to consider is reusable packaging schemes. Tesco has partnered with Loop  to help shoppers buy leading brands in reusable packaging. Currently available in 10 large Tesco stores, the Loop stations are stocked with famous names like Tetley, Heinz, Coca-Cola and Quaker Oats. You add the items to your trolley, and pay a small, 100% refundable deposit for the reusable packaging. When you’re done, return the items in a Return Bag. The reusables go to Loop to clean and refill before heading back to stores.

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