How to reduce packaging waste in retail

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Photo by Global Packaging Solutions Only a third of UK plastic packaging used in consumer products is recycled each year

Packaging waste in the UK is a major cause for concern which only continues to grow. In 2016, a Recoup UK Household Plastics Collection survey found that only a third of plastic packaging used in consumer products is recycled each year and just 45% of recyclable products are actually recycled.

Once we’re done with it, the fact that plastic isn’t biodegradable becomes an issue. Much of the plastic that we use ends up incinerated, dumped in landfills or washed out into the ocean. In fact, it’s estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic, sadly, ends up in our oceans every year and that figure could increase tenfold over the next 10 years unless action is taken.

That’s why it’s important that we start taking proactive steps to reduce plastic packaging waste and be more environmentally conscious.

Reduce plastic packaging

It’s been 24 years since the first item was sold online and the online shopping industry is still growing. Studies have found 95% of British people are now buying goods online and one in four people shop online at least once a week.

As well as this, online sales hit £133bn (€152bn) in 2016. When you think about this and the fact that only a third of consumers are recycling, that’s a lot of packaging waste being thrown away.

This means both consumers and retailers need to start trying to reduce plastic packaging.

Retailers should consider whether using plastic bags is absolutely necessary. If possible, they should try to switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as paper linings and using a single box liner to wrap items instead of individually bagging them. That’s something we did.

We used to use one million single-use bags a year but have recently decided to use just one bag to wrap all items in a package, which will reduce plastic usage by 95%.

Likewise, consumers should try to buy from brands that use less packaging and only buy what they need or buy in bulk as it will generate less waste in the long-term.

Encourage recycling and urge customers to avoid multiple orders

In an ideal world, retailers would use recyclable packaging and consumers would dutifully recycle them so there is little waste. Unfortunately, only a third of consumers are actually doing this. It’s not just consumers either - BusinessWaste.co.uk found that 80% of businesses don’t recycle or care about it which leads to them contributing to the tonnes of waste produced each year.

Should this continue, predictions that our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050 may actually come true.

If recycling packaging is proving to be too problematic, retailers could encourage consumers to place one bulk order instead of many small ones. The root of the issue may not be the lack of recycling or reusing but, rather, the amount of online sales and the mountain of packaging this is generating.

If customers are encouraged place their orders in bulk, the amount of plastic packaging used by companies to wrap the items will be less. And consequently, the amount needing to be disposed of will be reduced as well. Although it may not seem like much, it’s an important first step towards handling the problem of plastic waste.

Consider reusing packaging

Think about whether packaging can be reused before you throw it away. For example, retailers can ask customers whether they mind having their orders delivered to them in reused packaging. Consumers should try to reuse any wrappings that would otherwise be considered as waste - for example, plastic shopping bags.

Not only will this reduce packaging waste, but it can even be more cost-effective in the long-term for both retailers and consumers. As well as this, many people prefer to reuse than to recycle as they find it easier.

The amount of packaging waste has been increasing year after year but 2018 can be the year that we try to make a proactive change. From using just one bag and repurposing it to recycling or trying to reduce the amount of online sales we’re placing, we can all try to reduce the amount of plastic waste our country produces each year and prevent that 2050 prediction from coming true.

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