For more news specific to each packaging manufacturing sector please see our packaging articles.
Be sure to catch Santa's sleigh - your last posting dates for Christmas 2022
With strikes and delays on the cards, Royal Mail advises posting early to beat the festive rush
The countdown to Christmas is now well and truly underway, with people all over the world looking to post cards and presents to their nearest and dearest.
These next few weeks will see more post sent than at any time of year and, for those of us who live in the UK, there are two main options for getting your presents delivered this Christmas - the first is good auld Saint Nick and the other is the Royal Mail.
Now, if you've all been good boys and girls, then the first route should prove as trustworthy as ever. Santa Claus is reliable as it gets, but we can't be so certain about the second option.
With Royal Mail staff amongst the many workers undertaking strike action this winter, there are potential delays to both domestic and international mail.
If you want to be certain that your gifts and cards arrive in time for Christmas Day, the Royal Mail's advice is short but clear:
"Allow plenty of time for posting. Please post items and gifts for Christmas early, particularly for international deliveries."
Royal Mail's recommended last posting dates for Christmas 2022:
- Fri 16 December: Royal Mail Bulk Mail Economy
- Mon 19 December: 2nd Class, 2nd Class Signed For, Royal Mail 48
- Wed 21 December: 1st Class, 1st Class Signed For, Royal Mail 24, Royal Mail Tracked 48*
- Thu 22 December: Special Delivery Guaranteed, Royal Mail Tracked 24*
- Fri 23 December: Special Delivery Guaranteed with Saturday Guarantee
* Not available to purchase at Post Office branches. You can buy postage online.
International Standard, Tracking and Signature Services
- Thu 1 December: Australia & New Zealand
- Fri 2 December: China
- Mon 5 December: Caribbean (except British Virgin Islands, Dominica & Anguilla)
- Wed 7 December: South & Central America, Asia (except China), Africa, Far & Middle East
- Thu 8 December: Cyprus, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Eastern Europe (except Czech Republic, Poland & Slovakia)
- Sat 10 December: USA, Canada, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Finland
- Mon 12 December: Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Denmark, Norway, Iceland
- Tue 13 December: France, Belgium, Luxembourg
International HM Forces Airmail
- Fri 2 December: To Operational & Static HM Forces
A range of international delivery services are available to over 225 countries worldwide at parcelforce.com.
E-commerce industry set for busy Christmas period
2022 has been a challenging year for the retail industry, with the lingering impacts of Covid-19, supply chain issues, inflation and the associated cost-of-living crisis all proving strong headwinds.
These challenges - and tightened household budgets - will impact the e-commerce sector as much as it will traditional bricks-and-mortar retail this year.
However, one thing is for sure - with e-commerce operations transformed globally during the early part of the pandemic, online sales continue to soar.
Market and consumer data specialist Statista estimates that the global e-commerce sales reached US $4.9 trillion in 2021, up almost 50% from 2019 ($3.3 trillion) with predictions that this figure will top US $7 trillion by 2025.
A strong e-commerce sector is here to stay and, despite the current gloomy economic outlook, online retailers in the UK can still expect a busy few weeks as Christmas approaches.
Stock up for the Christmas rush
With the busiest few weeks of the year ahead, e-commerce retailers will need to ensure that they are well stocked up on packaging essentials before the festive rush, but the good news is that leading UK manufacturer Polybags is setup to deliver last-minute Christmas packaging top-ups as they are needed.
Polybags offers a huge range of quality mailing bags and postal envelopes that are perfect for Christmas deliveries, with their 100%-recycled mailing bag handy packs available in small batches of just 200 bags - ideal for a quick Christmas top-up.
If you're looking for a mailing bag with a bit more Christmas sparkle, then Polybags' range of sparkling mailing bags could even be posted directly to the recipient, as they would look perfectly at home under the tree.
As with all of their products, Polybags' extensive mailing bag range is available with fast and free UK delivery as standard, whilst the company also offer a range of express next day options for those really in a hurry.
So whether you're posting parcels to customers, or presents directly to loved ones - make sure you've got the packaging you need and you get your post off on time this Christmas - otherwise you'll be on the hotline to Santa to bail you out!
Please note: The dates listed above are a guide only and are correct at the time of publication. However, we recommend that you check the Royal Mail website for the latest service updates in the run-up to Christmas.
UK seaweed packaging startup wins £1m Earthshot prize
Natural alternative to plastic packaging among green innovations rewarded by Prince of Wales
A British company that creates packaging from seaweed has won a £1m prize from the Prince of Wales’s Earthshot fund.
London startup Notpla - short for Not Plastic - was one of five companies awarded $1.2m (£1m) for scaling up innovative ideas that benefit the environment.
Notpla's seaweed-based products include an edible drinks capsule trialled at the 2019 London marathon and takeaway food boxes - over a million of which have been produced this year for delivery platform JustEat.
The Hackney-based company was co-founded by Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier, who met while studying innovation design engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art.
"When Rodrigo and I started Notpla eight years ago in our student kitchen, we would have never imagined we would be here today," said Paslier.
"No-one wants to live in a world full of plastic waste but it's not too late to act. There's never been a greater time to use natural solutions to solve the plastic challenge."
Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot challenge in the 1960s and launched by the Prince of Wales in 2020, the Earthshot Prize aims to discover and help scale innovative solutions that put the world firmly on a trajectory toward a stable climate by 2030.
Every year this decade, five Earthshot winners will be chosen for their groundbreaking solutions to five of the greatest environmental challenges facing our planet.
Notpla's award came in a category entitled Build a Waste-Free World, whilst the other categories - Clean our Air, Protect and Restore Nature, Revive our Oceans and Fix our Climate - saw winners from Kenya, India, Australia and Oman respectively.
All prize winners were determined by the Earthshot Council - a panel of judges that included HRH Prince William, broadcaster and environmentalist Sir David Attenbrough, World Trade Organisation director-general Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, actor Cate Blanchett and pop star Shakira Mebarak.
Speaking at the ceremony, The Prince of Wales said: "I believe that the Earthshot solutions you have seen this evening prove we can overcome our planet's greatest challenges. And by supporting and scaling them we can change our future.
"Alongside tonight's winners and finalists, and those to be discovered over the years to come, it's my hope the Earthshot legacy will continue to grow, helping our communities and our planet to thrive."
Image courtesy of the Earthshot Prize.
WRAP highlights Plastics Pact progress but more work to do
Recycling rates have improved but some 2025 targets unlikely to be met
- Recycled content in packaging has more than doubled in three years
- Massive reduction in unnecessary and hard to recycle components in packaging
- But 70% recycling rate may not be possible without widespread plastic bag collection
- Supermarket collection points to play an even more vital role in meantime
Recycling rates in the UK have improved significantly since 2018 but more urgent action is required to meet environmental targets, a new report from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has revealed.
WRAP's latest annual report on the UK Plastics Pact - signed by a collection of business and government organisations in 2018 to tackle the problem of plastic waste - shows that the group is currently on track to meet only two of its four targets for 2025.
Huge reductions have been made in the use of problem plastics in the last three years, whilst the level of recycled content in packaging has more than doubled over that period.
But two ambitious targets on recycling levels in the UK are unlikely to be met, thanks largely to inadequate plastic bag recycling provision in the UK, along with the closure of export markets.
WRAP's director of collaboration and change Catherine David said: "COP27 made it clear that we are not on track to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Accelerating action by businesses is paramount.
"The businesses signed up to our agreement are leading the way in transforming the plastic packaging sector, demonstrating what is possible, and helping inform government's thinking on needed regulatory levers.
"Today's reports show the mountain we need to climb, and we call on all businesses to join us on this journey and be part of changing our consumption systems in line with a sustainable future."
Led by WRAP, the 2018 UK Plastics Pact saw a collection of businesses, associates and supporters commit to four ambitious targets aimed at reducing plastic waste by 2025.
With the halfway point to these targets now behind us, the Pact's 2021-22 annual report gives an "honest appraisal" of its progress against these targets, examples of good collaboration and innovation, along with an assessment of the challenges it faces.
Target 1: Eliminate problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic
Progress: There has been an 84% reduction in problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics between 2018 and 2021. This equates to 620 million fewer items on the shelf (114m vs 734m) with tonnage down to 9,000 tonnes - a reduction of 57%.
Tesco was highlighted in the report for taking a positive lead, having removed more than 1.7 billion pieces of plastic, including plastic wrapping from tin multipacks and branded beer and cider, additional lids from wipes, creams, yoghurts and desserts, as well as plastic forks from prepared salads.
Target 2: 100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
Progress: 70% of plastic packaging is recyclable today - up from 66% in 2018. For rigid plastics, this figure is now 92%, up from 81% in 2018. There has also been a 90% reduction in hard-to-recycle plastics.
However, despite this progress, WRAP warns that inadequate provision for the recycling of plastic bags means the overall target will not be met by 2025.
Soft-plastic recycling is available at many major supermarkets, with Aldi recently becoming the latest to offer recycling points across its UK stores by the end of this year.
WRAP has welcomed this initiative, but has warned that at-scale recycling of bags and wrapping through kerbside collections will be required for the UK Plastics Pact to meet this ambitious target.
The report also highlights the need for the many trials to move to reusable packaging to be scaled.
Target 3: 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
Progress: 50% of plastic packaging is recycled - up from 44% in 2018.
However, despite this progress, WRAP warns that members will not meet this target by 2025, as the recycling rate actually fell between 2020 and 2021.
For the first time in nearly 20 years the amount of plastic packaging processed in the UK exceeds the amount exported - largely due to the closure of export markets for recycled packaging.
So despite an increase in the amount of plastic packaging being recycled in the UK, with much more plastic to be recycled, the overall recycling rate declined last year.
WRAP highlights the need for significant investment in UK recycling, particularly as export markets become less reliable.
Target 4: 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging
Progress: Recycled content levels have risen from 8.5% in 2018 to 22% in 2021.
The reduction in the use of virgin plastic, combined with this increase in recycled content delivered a saving of 260,000 tonnes of CO2e. This is a 9% reduction in CO2e since 2018, which is equivalent to taking 119,000 cars off the road.
Pact members placed 205,000 tonnes of recycled content in primary packaging ahead of the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax in April 2022.
UK manufacturers have also followed suit, with a greater offering of recycled-content products available than just 12 months ago.
Leading the way is Polybags, who this year introduced over 100 new products containing 30% or more recycled content across more than a dozen product ranges.
Among them are a number of their most popular products, including these best-selling mailing bags made from 100% recycled material.
Images courtesy of WRAP. The UK Plastics Pact annual report is available on the WRAP website.
Lidl gives all-clear to recyclable bottle tops
Clear caps to permanently replace green caps on all semi-skimmed milk in bid to improve recycling rates
Lidl is to permanently replace the green caps used for its semi-skimmed milk range with clear caps, it has been announced.
The move - made in partnership with their milk supplier Müller - follows a successful four-week trial and will see the clear tops roll out across all Lidl stores from November.
The discount retailer - set to soon replace Morrisons as the UK's fifth-largest supermarket - has made the change in a bid to further improve the recyclability of its products.
Rival discount retailer Aldi - who also partner with Müller for their milk supply - is also trialling the use of clear milk bottle caps.
Unlike the bottles themselves, milk caps that contain a colour pigment can not be easily recycled back into food-grade packaging.
By switching to clear caps, Lidl say they will enable 60 tonnes per year of recycled high-density polythene (HDPE) to be recycled, as the colour-less material can be turned into milk bottles - keeping the material within a circular system.
Lidl's senior buying director Scott Davey said: "We remain committed to supporting our customers in helping them make more sustainable shopping decisions on a daily basis. Customer feedback during the trial was overwhelmingly positive and we are thrilled to be making this change permanent across Lidl stores.
"In addition, this move will help us achieve our goal of making more of the plastic we use circular and fit to be repurposed time and time again."
Image courtesy of Lidl.
Only until Christmas! Don't miss these festive packaging offers!
Fantastic offers on Christmas packaging around the world
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.
If you're a retailer at Christmas, there's lots of packaging for that.
Christmas is always the busiest time of the year for the retail sector and, despite shoppers being more careful about their spending this year, retailers will still be looking to make the most of the festive season.
With more than two-in-five UK shoppers (43%) expecting to spend less over the festive season (EY Future Consumer Index), retailers might have to work a little bit harder to attract shoppers during the most important month of the year.
As competition for sales intensifies, standing out from the crowd becomes more important and, as the Christmas countdown clock ticks louder and louder with each passing day, quality seasonal packaging can make all the difference.
The good news for retailers is that, wherever you are in the world, there are still plenty of Christmas packaging bargains to be had, from gift bags to gift boxes and mailing bags to carrier bags.
Retailers in Canada can add some Christmas cheer to their deliveries whilst keeping the items protected with these padded Christmas mailing bags from Walmart, whilst there is a huge range of festive packaging to choose from - from Christmas mailing boxes to shopping bags - at Uline.
Plenty of festive bargains await US retailers thanks to a huge Christmas gift packaging sale at Target, whilst select items are on sale amongst the fabulous choice of Christmas gift baskets, boxes and trays at Nashville Wraps.
In Australia, online retailers looking to add some sparkle to their deliveries can pick up some foil mailing bags from Envelopes, whilst there are a wide range of lovely Christmas gift boxes available to customers at Big W.
Over the water in New Zealand, retailers can pick from a range of Christmas boxes and trays available at Pan Pacific Marketing, whilst there's a great selection of Christmas gift bags and wrap at Warehouse.
In South Africa, Paper Packaging Place has a huge range of Christmas bags, boxes and gift wrap for retailers to choose from, whilst a similar collection at Takealot offers yet more choice for retailers.
Here in the UK, Polybags has an expanding range of packaging products to cater for your festive needs. Their new range of Christmas carrier bags are classic white patch handle carriers printed with a red or green festive design - the ideal bags for retailers who want to spread some festive cheer in the weeks ahead.
The leading UK manufacturer also has a range of special offers, with 15% off all coloured carrier bags - including festive red, white or green - and a whopping 20% off their largest jumbo carrier bags, which are big enough for Santa to use on his sleigh.
Polybags also caters for all of your Christmas retail essentials, so ensure you're fully stocked up on mailing bags and carrier bags for the busy Christmas period - all with fast, free delivery on all UK orders, plus a choice of next day express options if you need a last-minute top-up at any point between now and Christmas.
With a five-star Trustpilot rating and the UK's most extensive range of eco-friendly packaging - including compostable, biodegradable, recyclable and 100%-recycled products - Polybags has all your packaging needs covered this Christmas.
Product images courtesy of retailers listed.
Asda cuts packaging waste by doubling loo roll length
Asda has announced a green packaging initiative with a twist, by doubling the length of its own-brand loo rolls.
The supermarket says the change will remove 74 tonnes of plastic packaging and save 760 tonnes of cardboard per annum, whilst also removing over 1,200 lorries from the road each year.
The retailer's new Shades double toilet rolls - which are accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - will feature double the amount of toilet paper on each roll and reduce the number of rolls per pack.
The change will be made to all seven existing lines in the Shades range, with sizes starting with a multipack of two double rolls - featuring the same number of sheets as a standard four pack. Asda's Just Essential toilet rolls already come in double roll format.
The UK's fifth biggest supermarket says that the move will help customers to reduce their own plastic waste, whilst fewer deliveries due to the more efficient packaging will help reduce emissions.
"Shades toilet rolls are one of our most popular own-brand products so to be able to make this change and help reduce both our customers and our own carbon footprint without affecting the great quality of our product in any way is an incredibly important step for us," said Sarah Yorke, Asda's Buying Manager for Household Paper.
The new toilet roll packaging, which is made from 30% recycled content, will also show Asda's support for Bowel Cancer UK's #GetOnARoll campaign, designed to increase customer awareness of bowel cancer.
Both Asda's Shades and Just Essentials toilet roll packs will feature signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, along with a QR code for customers to find out more.
Asda customers seeking to further reduce their environmental impact can bring their used toilet rolls packs - and other soft plastic packaging - to a front-of-store recycling point at over 150 Asda stores.
Image courtesy of Asda.
Morrisons launches fully plastic-free Christmas gift wrap range
Cut-price wrapping paper also encourages customers to have an eco-friendlier Christmas
Morrisons has removed all plastic packaging from its Christmas wrapping paper and accessory ranges.
For this year's Christmas collection, the retailer has removed all plastic film and shrink wrap packaging from its rolls of festive gift wrap - a move that it says saves over 3.1 tonnes of plastic from this range alone.
Plastic packaging has also been removed from all gifting accessories, such as gift tags and bags.
Gift bags themselves will be made entirely of recyclable paper, with their plastic ribbon handles replaced by a paper twist or paper braid alternative.
This is the latest move by Morrisons to remove plastic from its Christmas ranges. In previous years, the retailer removed glitter and plastic from paper wrap, crackers and cards - reducing plastic use by over 150 tonnes over the past three years.
To help make disposing of festive wrap easier, Morissons has also launched a fully recyclable sticky tape, which does not need to be removed before placing paper gift wrap in curbside collections.
The UK's fourth largest supermarket is also giving customers more incentive to have an eco-friendlier Christmas this year, by halving the price of wrapping paper compared to last Christmas.
Wrapping paper will cost just 99p this year - down from £2 in 2021 - whilst the price of gift bags has also been reduced.
Jodie Mackrill, Buying Manager for Christmas and Events at Morrisons, said: "We are always looking to find ways to reduce and remove plastic packaging across all of the products we sell. It's what our customers tell us they want too.
"During the Christmas period, 269,423 miles of wrapping paper are used every year, contributing to plastic ending up in landfill. Our new entirely plastic-free Christmas wrap and gift range means customers can have a more sustainable Christmas and we hope that cutting costs on gift bags and wrapping paper will help them in that."
Christmas shoppers looking for plastic-free alternatives have never had more choice at Christmas. Paper gift wrap and gift bags are now widely available, whilst customers looking to send presents by post have alternative options to traditional plastic.
UK retailer Polybags offers an extensive range of paper mailing bags that provide a fantastic plastic-free alternative to traditional mailing bags, including a range of protective paper mailing bags that offer an eco-friendly alternative to bubble-lined mailers, whilst providing the same level of protection to contents.
Morrisons' new plastic-free Christmas range is part of their bid to reduce plastic packaging by 50% by 2025, whilst making all of their own-brand plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable during the same time frame.
Image courtesy of Morrisons.
Aldi to offer soft-plastic recycling at UK stores
New recycling points will enable tonnes of soft plastics to be recycled each year
Aldi customers will soon be able to recycle soft plastics at their local store, the supermarket has announced.
The discount retailer is set to roll out recycling points at almost all of its UK stores, as it seeks to help customers recycle tonnes of problem materials a year.
The recycling bins will cater for all types of clean, soft plastic packaging - including carrier bags, crisp packets, bread bags and salad bags - regardless of where the items were bought.
Following a successful trial last year, the full rollout will see bins installed in over 800 stores nationwide by the end of this year.
The German retail giant - which recently overtook Morrisons to become the UK's fourth largest supermarket - expects the recycling points to collect up to 1,000 tonnes of plastic a year.
Aldi UK's plastics and packaging director Richard Gorman said: "We are always striving to reduce plastic waste wherever possible, and we know how important this is to our customers. This rollout is a step in the right direction and provides our shoppers with an easy option to recycle their problematic soft plastic packaging in the UK.
"We hope customers utilise our collection bins to help us make a positive change by recycling more waste."
With most UK local authorities still not offering collection of soft plastics, Aldi's decision to help customers recycle more of their waste has been welcomed by the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
Helen Bird, head of business collaboration at WRAP, said: "A fifth of the plastic packaging that we’re all left with at home is plastic bags and wrapping. There are opportunities to reduce this, but where plastic is used, packaging design needs to be simplified and recycling systems are needed. In future years, this packaging will be collected directly from people’s homes and places of work, but solutions are urgently needed today to tackle the growing mountain of waste."
"Many citizens have shown that they are willing to take plastic bags and wrapping to their local food stores for recycling, and this move by Aldi means that more people across the UK will be able to do just that. We have seen trials and regional roll outs of similar schemes by other supermarkets working towards The UK Plastics Pact goal for all plastic packaging to be recyclable by 2025, this move by Aldi is a great achievement and one we fully support."
Image courtesy of Aldi.
Primark's Christmas wrapping paper bags return for 2022
Popular paper carriers double up as snazzy wrapping paper
Primark shoppers are in for a festive bonus once again this Christmas, as the retailer's popular wrapping-paper bags make a return to the high street.
The festive paper bags with a distinctive candy-striped pattern double up as Christmas wrapping paper, allowing Primark customers to save money whilst cutting back on waste.
Making an appearance for a third consecutive Christmas, Primark's festive bags feature handy cutting lines for wrapping gifts, creating gift tags, or even making festive decorations.
When Primark launched the bags in 2020, the company said: "Our brown paper shopping bags have had a festive makeover! Featuring classic red candy cane stripes they’ll make the perfect wrapping paper.
"If you’re creative and crafty you could even fold it origami style to create star shaped decorations."
The bags' return for 2022 has gone down well with shoppers, judging by the reaction to the news on the Extreme Couponing and Bargains UK Facebook group.
"Love this wrap idea," said one user. "Looks so traditional much nicer than some of that dodgy Xmas paper! Plus recycling so a win win!"
Another said: "What a great idea!! Let's just hope it doesn’t rain or rip before you get them home..."
Durability is indeed one of the drawbacks of paper carrier bags, when compared to plastic bags - something we did in a recent article here on Packaging Knowledge.
Whilst encouraging customers to reuse their paper bags as wrapping paper is laudable, cutting back on waste is not the only factor to consider when choosing your packaging.
As pointed out in the article below, a paper bag must be used at least three times for it to have a lower environmental impact than a plastic bag used just once, thanks largely to the fact they use much less energy to both produce and transport.
Traditional polythene carrier bags are stronger, which means they can also be used more frequently and last longer than their paper equivalents.
Plastic bags are also perfect for printing, which allows customers to design their very own branded festive printed carrier bags such as those offered by leading UK manufacturer Polybags - also guaranteed to be a winner this Christmas.
Images courtesy of Primark.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonald's responsible for over one-third of UK branded packaging waste
'Dirty dozen' companies responsible for over two-thirds of branded pollution found in UK, according to charity report
Over two-thirds of the UK's branded packaging waste comes from just a dozen companies, according to a damning report by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).
The environmental charity analysed packaging litter collected by volunteers across the UK and found that giants Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonald's were the worst offenders for the third consecutive year - responsible for a staggering 38% of branded waste between them.
The survey found that 70% of branded packaging pollution came from just a dozen companies. Also on the list of worst offenders were Anheuser-Busch InBev, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Tesco, Red Bull GmbH, Suntory, Carlsberg Group, Heineken Holding and Mars.
Thousands of volunteers collected packaging pollution over the last year, through SAS's Million Mile Clean.
The survey uncovered over 264 companies fuelling the packaging pollution crisis and filling up rivers and seas, with a shocking 28,727 items recorded overall, including both branded and unbranded items.
Coca-Cola was the worst offender for the third year running, as the company comes under continued pressure to improve their refill and recycling efforts.
The soft-drinks giant recently announced a new reusable packaging target, aiming for at least 25% of all beverages worldwide to be sold in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles and containers by 2030.
Surfers Against Sewage chief executive Hugo Tagholm says the charity will be watching carefully to see if those words are put into action.
"Year after year, our Citizen Science Brand Audit reveals the same huge companies are responsible for the packaging pollution choking our environment. Despite public sustainability commitments, these dirty brands are failing to take meaningful action to stop this harm," said Tagholm.
"We cannot stand for this blatant greenwashing any longer. Systemic change is urgently needed to end the pollution swamping the land and ocean. Businesses need to take responsibility for their polluting products and transition to models of reduction and reuse.
"Legislation such as an 'all-in' deposit scheme needs to be introduced urgently and governments must hold these companies to account."
Surfers Against Sewage is calling on companies to end their harmful pollution by taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, reducing their packaging and adopting circular business models.
The charity believes it is time for big polluters to act now to end their polluting ways.
Graphics courtesy of Surfers Against Sewage.
Plastic bags vs paper bags - Which packaging is better?
When flexible plastic entered the consumer packaging market in the 1950s, it proved a game-changer for the industry.
The new lightweight and versatile material grew in popularity in the decades that followed, and paper carrier bags in particular - once the grocery bag of choice - were slowly phased out as plastic carrier bags took over.
Lighter, stronger and more versatile than their paper predecessors, plastic bags offered a cheaper, more durable and more convenient solution - one designed to be used over and over again.
But over the decades that followed, with more and more people choosing to throw bags away rather than reuse them, plastic pollution has become an increasing problem.
Today, for many, plastic bags are packaging's public enemy number one. Demand for paper bags has begun to rise once more, with Morissons and Woolworths among retailers to reintroduce paper bags in a bid to reduce plastic waste.
But which are actually better for the environment - plastic bags or paper bags?
Packaging Knowledge compares the two types of bags, from the beginning of their life-cycle to the end.
Plastic bags vs paper bags - Production
Plastic bags are largely derived from crude oil - a fossil fuel. Whilst a single plastic bag only takes a small amount of oil to make, this oil cannot be replaced, so regular plastic bags are neither renewable or sustainable.
Paper is manufactured from trees - a renewable source. However, making paper bags in large volumes requires a lot of trees to be chopped down. This is one of the main reasons why plastic bags were invented in the first place - to reduce the impact on forests around the world.
You can check if paper is from a responsibly-managed forest through certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, but global deforestation is still a problem.
Another downside of paper is that it takes a lot of water to produce, so a paper bag uses up more water than a plastic bag.
Both paper and plastic bags use energy to produce, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which pollutes the environment.
However, making a plastic bag uses around a quarter of the energy used to produce an equivalent paper bag, which means a much lower carbon footprint when it comes to production.
Plastic bags vs paper bags - Transportation
Plastic is lighter and thinner than paper, so you can transport more plastic bags, at a lower cost, than you can paper bags of an equivalent size.
As paper bags take more journeys - or heavier journeys - to transport, this means they also have a higher carbon footprint when it comes to transportation.
When you take production and transportation energy use into account, a paper bag needs to be used three times for it to be as environmentally-friendly as a plastic bag used just once. But as we know - a plastic bag can and should be used more than once.
Plastic bags vs paper bags - Cost
Plastic is the cheapest to produce of all common packaging materials - another reason why it has become so popular.
Plastic bags cost less to produce than paper, largely due to the less intensive production method and the fact that they require less energy to produce. As noted above, they also cost more less money to transport than paper bags
With global energy prices and fuel prices currently at or near an all-time high, production and transportation costs for paper bags are higher than ever, when compared to plastic bags.
Plastic bags vs paper bags - Reusability
Plastic is stronger, lighter, and more durable than paper. It is also largely waterproof, whereas paper is susceptible to water damage, which can drastically reduce its strength.
The superior strength and flexibility of plastic bags make them more versatile and more durable than paper bags, making them more suitable for reuse.
For the creator of the first plastic bag, Sten Gustaf Thulin, this reusability was the main driver behind his invention. He always carried a bag folded-up in his pocket, so that he could use it over and over again.
Thulin's invention was "very much an improvement on what there was before," his son, Raoul Thulin, told the BBC in 2019.
"What we're all being encouraged to do today - to take your own bags to the shop - he was doing back in the 70s and 80s just naturally because, well, why wouldn't you?
"To my dad, the idea that people would simply throw these away would be bizarre."
Plastic bags vs paper bags - Litter impact
But throw them away people have. Whether down to convenience, laziness or a combination of the two, the plastic bag became a throwaway item.
The bag designed to be used over and over again became, for many, a single-use bag. Carrier bag taxes imposed by various governments have discouraged use - with more people taking their own bags to the shops - but it is beyond doubt that carrier bags, incorrectly disposed of, have contributed to the plastic pollution problem we face today.
When it escapes refuse streams and reaches the open environment, a plastic bag's durability becomes a negative factor. Plastics can take anything from 10 years to hundreds of years to decompose. Most plastic bags are at the lower end of that scale, but this is still potentially a long time for them to pollute their surroundings and, as they break down, leave behind dangerous microplastics.
Paper bags, on the other hand, will benefit from their reduced durability. Most types of paper are biodegradable, i.e. they can be broken down by bacteria or other living organisms. Most plain paper bags - i.e. without a laminate coating or similar - will break down in the open environment in a matter of weeks.
So if a paper bag and a plastic bag were both to escape refuse streams and end up in the open environment, it's fairly clear which has the greater negative impact on its surroundings.
Plastic bags vs paper bags - Recyclability
Plastic bags are recyclable, albeit not as widely recyclable as rigid plastics, such as plastic bottles. Most local authorities don't collect plastic bags and other flexible plastic in their kerbside recycling, so you may need to take yours to a plastic bag recycling point, which are available at most large supermarkets.
On the other hand, paper is the most widely recycled material in the UK. Most local authorities collect paper in their kerbside collections. Some paper bags, such as those with a glossy or laminate coating, may not be suitable for recycling, but regular plain paper bags should be suitable for recycling with other paper and cardboard waste.
So although plastic bags and paper bags are both recyclable, the latter is more easy and convenient to recycle for the vast majority of people, which in part explains why recycling rates are much higher for paper than for flexible plastic.
So should I use plastic bags or paper bags?
If you want to do the right thing for the environment, the best thing to do is to use a bag that you already own. Both paper bags and plastic bags use resources to produce. This means they both have a carbon footprint, so the best solution is to not add to the demand for more to be produced.
Use a bag you already own, over and over again. When it can't be used any more, try to repair it. If it can't be repaired, recycle it.
If you need to buy a new bag, then plastic and paper bags both have their pros and cons. These are summarised below, so your decision might come down to which aspect of a bag's properties you care most about.
People often focus only on the end of a bag's life-cycle, at which stage plastic's durability becomes a negative factor, when compared to that of paper.
We've all seen pictures and videos of plastic pollution, which is undoubtedly a big problem but, for consumers trying to do the right thing for the environment, it only tells part of the story.
To take a holistic view of the environmental impact of plastic bags versus paper bags, we must look at the full life-cycle analysis of each bag, including the impact of production and transportation.
Paper bags take more energy and more water to produce than plastic bags. They are also thicker and heavier, so there is a greater environmental impact in transporting them to the shops.
When you take all of these things into account, the plastic bag is more eco-friendly, as a paper bag must be used at least three times for it to be better for the environment than a plastic bag used just once before being recycled.
And who uses a plastic bag just once these days?
Plastic bags - pros and cons
- Pros: Strong, lightweight, durable, versatile, cheap, efficient to make (use very little oil and energy), lower carbon footprint (production and transportation), highly reusable, recyclable (collection points only)
- Cons: Made from fossil fuels, not renewable or sustainable, not widely recyclable via kerbside collections, can pollute the environment for years in the event of littering
Paper bags - pros and cons
- Pros: Made from a renewable source, reusable, widely recyclable, biodegrades in the open environment in the event of littering
- Cons: Heavier, less durable, susceptible to water/moisture damage, less efficient to make (uses lots of energy and water), higher carbon footprint (production and transportation), can contribute to global deforestation (if not from responsible source)
Lidl first UK supermarket to trial 'smart' refills
On-shelf service offers low-cost, mess-free refills that reduce plastic use
Have you ever considered using a supermarket refill station but refrained due to worries over potential mess?
Such concerns could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a groundbreaking new trial from Lidl GB.
Lidl customers in three Midlands stores have the opportunity to refill their Formil laundry detergent using 'smart' pouches and an on-shelf 'smart' refill machine.
The state-of-art refill machine is the first of its kind to be trialled in the UK, providing Lidl customers with a mess-free refill solution on the supermarket shelves.
Lidl hopes the innovation will save its customers money, reduce plastic use and make life easier for the whole supply chain, through the following benefits:
- Cost: Customers will save 20p per refill compared to regular Formil bottles - making it the supermarket's cheapest laundry wash option
- Speed: Automated touchscreen experience combined with innovative 'closed-fill' pouch-cap technology means faster filling without the risk of mess and spills
- Sustainability: Smart pouches save 59g of plastic per refill - the weight of an equivalent 'single-use' bottle - whilst minimising CO2 and water usage
- Efficiency: Refill unit takes up the space of just 66 Formil bottles but has the capacity to fill over 245 individual pouches after just one replenishment, whilst transporting the detergent in bulk packaging makes logistics more efficient
Mark Newbold, CSR Manager at Lidl GB, said: "We are incredibly proud of this latest innovation, which will enable our customers to save money and reduce their plastic consumption. We were the first UK supermarket to introduce smart laundry detergent refill stations and now we're the first to introduce this next generation design.
"It's our strong belief that good quality and value should go together. We are committed to providing our customers with cost saving solutions that can help their wallets and the planet."
The smart technology used in Lidl's refill machine is provided by Chilean start-up company Algramo, which translates as "by the gram". The company's distribution system uses vending machines and reusable packaging to allow people to purchase products in small quantities and pay about 40% less for life's essentials.
Algramo's smart technology uses a special chip placed in the Formil pouches that allows their refill machine to distinguish between new and reused pouches, ensuring the customer gets their saving of 20p after their first use.
It will also help Lidl and Algramo to understand how many times each pouch is refilled and therefore how much packaging has been saved through the trial.
The trial will take place in Lidl’s Swadlincote, Lichfield and Kingswinford stores and builds on a six-month pilot of a larger, standing refill machine at the Kingswinford store, which went down well with customers.
97% of those who used the machine said they would recommend it to a friend or colleague, whilst 88% said they plan to use it again soon.
Image courtesy of Lidl.
California dreaming of plastic-free future
All packaging in the US state must be recyclable or compostable by 2032
California has passed an ambitious new law that requires all plastic packaging in the US state to be recyclable or compostable by 2032.
The historic legislation - the first with such sweeping restrictions passed by any US state - is designed to significantly reduce plastic waste and hold the packaging industry to account for its production.
The SB54 legislation targets a 25 percent cut in plastic packaging in California by 2032, whilst requiring 65 percent of all single-use plastic packaging to be recycled in the same timeframe.
Furthermore, the new legislation will see $5 billion raised from industry members over the next decade to assist efforts to cut plastic pollution and support disadvantaged communities hurt most by the damaging effects of plastic waste.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said it was right to shift the burden of plastic pollution from consumers to the plastics industry.
"Our kids deserve a future free of plastic waste and all its dangerous impacts, everything from clogging our oceans to killing animals – contaminating the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. No more," said Newsome.
"California won’t tolerate plastic waste that’s filling our waterways and making it harder to breathe. We’re holding polluters responsible and cutting plastics at the source.”
Of the 40 million tonnes of plastic waste produced in the United States in 2021, only around two million tonnes - or less than six per cent - was recycled, according to a report by environmental groups Beyond Plastics and The Last Beach Cleanup.
California legislators hope to turn the tide on those figures with the most significant overhaul of the state’s plastics and packaging recycling policy in history.
The legislation goes further than any other state on cutting plastics production at the source, requiring all plastic packaging in California to be recycled at a minimum level of:
- 30 percent from 1 January 2028
- 40 percent from 1 January 2030
- 65 percent from 1 January 2032
Senator Ben Allen, who introduced the legislation, said: "With this new law, California continues its tradition of global environmental leadership – tackling a major problem in a way that will grow markets in sustainable innovations, create incentives for investment, and set the stage for partnership with other states and countries on these issues."
In the United States, packaging and waste management regulations are governed by state law, rather than federal law, so the approach taken to tackle issues such as plastic pollution can vary widely from state to state.
California's approach also differs to that here in the United Kingdom, where legislation to date has focused not on recycling levels, but on taxing plastic production that does not include a significant portion of recycled material.
Since April 2022, all plastic produced in or imported into the UK that contains less than 30% recycled material is subject to a Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) of £200 per metric tonne.
The PPT was designed to encourage the use of recycled plastic in packaging and reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce, whilst - in parallels with the Californian approach - placing more responsibility on manufacturers and importers to reduce their reliance on virgin plastic and increase the level of recycled content in plastic products.
The UK government has yet to publish a PPT impact assessment, but the new legislation has certainly succeeded in getting some industry leaders to change their approach to packaging production.
Leading UK manufacturer Polybags has extended its range of stocked products made from recycled content - introducing over 100 new products containing 30% recycled content or more, across more than a dozen product ranges - from packing bags to grip seal bags and layflat polythene tubing to carrier bags.
Many of these ranges are made entirely from recycled plastic - including their popular 100% recycled black mailing bags and a selection of coloured or colour-tinted 100% recycled waste sacks - themselves designed for helping to segregate recycling waste.
If you are unfamiliar with the UK legislation, Polybags has also published a helpful introductory guide to the Plastic Packaging Tax for those who want to find out more.
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash.
Tesco puts the squeeze on toothpaste packaging
Tesco supermarket is aiming to squeeze toothpaste packaging off its shelves in a bid to reduce packaging waste.
The supermarket giant has sold its own-brand toothpaste without the exterior box for almost a year - saving 55 tonnes of cardboard per annum - and now it is hoping to do the same for branded toothpaste.
30 Tesco stores across the UK will trial sales of un-boxed toothpaste brands, including Colgate, Oral B, Sensodyne, Aquafresh and Corsadyl, whilst will asking customers how they feel about the change in packaging.
If successful, toothpaste will then be sold loose and free from the outer box across all Tesco stores, saving a potential 680 tonnes of cardboard a year.
Tesco Oral Care Buyer Felicity Bexton said: "We made a bold move to remove un-needed toothpaste boxes last November on our own brand and have had positive feedback from customers. Now we are working with the major toothpaste brands to join us on this journey.
"Not only is there an opportunity to remove this needless packaging, but it also means being able to transport more tubes in the same amount of space, helping us take delivery lorries off the road too.
"We think that for customers the move makes sense, because the first thing they do when they buy toothpaste is throw the packaging box away!"
Image courtesy of Tesco.
Aldi bids to be more green by removing green from milk caps
Supermarket to trial clear caps on milk bottles in a bid to improve recyclability
Aldi is to trial the use of clear caps on its milk bottles in a bid to improve the recyclability of its products.
The UK's fifth-largest supermarket - set to soon overtake Morrisons in fourth place - will scrap the familiar green bottle tops on its semi-skimmed milk range in favour of clear caps, as they are easier to recycle.
The trial will take place in Aldi stores in Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool, in partnership with milk supplier Müller.
A successful trial is expected to lead to a rollout across all of Aldi's Müller-supplied stores, which would save an additional 60 tonnes of recycled High-Density Polythene (rHDPE) every year.
This could then be reconverted into food-grade packaging, as the milk bottle tops could be reused to create new milk bottles.
Aldi's Plastics and Packaging Director Richard Gorman said: "We know it’s becoming increasingly important to our customers that their everyday products are environmentally-friendly, and we are constantly reviewing ways to become a more sustainable supermarket.
"By trialling clear milk caps we are making our milk bottles easier to recycle, so they can be turned back into new packaging."
HDPE has been the go-to milk bottle material for many years, replacing its predecessor glass due to superior strength and lighter weight, which radically reduces energy costs of transportation, whilst reducing breakage.
Plastic milk bottles can also be moulded into more ergonomic and complex bottle shapes to make them easier to use and more efficient to stack, allowing more milk to be transported or stored in the same crate.
HDPE is also highly recyclable, making it a perfect material for use in milk bottles - able to withstand the stresses of transportation, usage, cleaning, chopping, cutting, melting and reforming into new milk bottles.
The only real downside of HDPE use in milk bottles is that the dye molecules used to colour the distinctive bottle tops binds so well with the HDPE that it is very difficult to separate during recycling, meaning bottle tops - whether full-fat blue, semi-skimmed green or skimmed red - need removing and recycling separately to the bottles themselves.
Aldi's trial of replacing the green lid in its semi-skimmed range with a clear bottle top that can be recycled along with the rest of the bottle is the latest effort towards its target of making 50% of its plastic packaging from recycled materials by 2025.
Image courtesy of Aldi.
Twickenham kicks plastic waste into touch with 'self-destructing' cups
Home of England rugby tackles plastic pollution with new biodegradable Lyfecycle cups
Traditional plastic pint glasses will be a thing of the past at Twickenham Stadium, which has announced the use of new 'self-destructing' plastic cups.
Launching their 'Define Your Legacy' campaign, the home of England rugby has teamed up with Lyfecycle - created by British innovators Polymateria - to tackle issues of sustainability, specifically to do with the damages caused by plastic pollution in the sports industry.
Polymateria's breakthrough plastic technology is designed to be recycled but, crucially, if the material escapes refuse streams, it will return to nature within two years, leaving behind no microplastics or toxins.
All that is left behind is an earth-friendly wax that becomes a part of the natural cycle of life.
The breakthrough product is already making waves in the packaging industry, with leading UK manufacturer Polybags recently expanding their market-leading eco packaging range with various product ranges featuring Polymateria's biotransformation technology.
Now the 82,000-capacity venue in south-west London - the world's largest rugby stadium - has become the first major sports venue to turn to the innovative new products, as they seek to improve their sustainability and that of attending supporters.
Managing Director of Twickenham Experience Nils Braude said: "We’re constantly looking at new innovations and ideas that help us in our responsibility to build a more sustainable future for the next generation.
"Working with Lyfecycle enables all our guests to feel good about their visit to Twickenham, knowing that with every cup, they’re taking an actionable step towards solving one of the biggest environmental problems of our time."
Polymateria CEO Niall Dunne said: "Our mission is to stop plastic on land before it reaches the oceans. Through visionary partners like Twickenham, our Lyfecycle time-controlled self-destructing cups show how recycling and biodegradation can work together, something previously not thought possible.
"To prove this, we’ll recycle cups used at Twickenham throughout the year and turn them into legacy items like benches and unique jewellery. On the current path, 450 million more tonnes of plastic will reach our oceans by 2040 so we must act now."
Images courtesy of Twickenham Stadium.
Carrier bag use down 20% since 10p charge
Government highlights drop in 'single-use' carrier bag sales, but environmentalists criticise 'misleading' data
Sales of 'single use' carrier bags in England have fallen by 20% after a 10p charge was brought in last year, the government has said.
A 5p carrier bag charge was introduced in England in 2015, which was then doubled to 10p in April 2021.
Data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) shows that carrier bag usage in England has decreased by 97% since the carrier bag tax was introduced in 2015 - a drop of 20% since the tariff doubled last year.
Defra says the average person in England now buys around three carrier bags a year, down from 140 in 2014.
But environmentalists argue that this figure is misleading, as supermarkets today only sell 'bags for life', which are not included in the figures.
Environment Minister Steve Double said: "Our plastic bag charge has ended the sale of billions of single-use bags, protecting our landscapes and ensuring millions of pounds is redistributed to worthy causes.
"There is much more to do to tackle the problem of plastic waste. That is why we are building on our single-use plastic bans and introducing the deposit return scheme for bottles to fight back against littering and drive up recycling rates."
Greenpeace has criticised the government's data as misleading, due to the exclusion of bags for life from the figures.
Research published by the environmental campaigners found that 1.5 billion bags for life were sold by supermarkets in 2019 - equating to almost 57 bags per household for the year - more than one 'bag for life' used each week.
"When the government congratulates themselves on the single-use plastic bag charge, what they fail to mention is the enormous increase in the purchasing of so-called 'bags for life'," says Greenpeace UK political campaigner Megan Corton Scott.
"Because these bags for life are thicker and more durable, they have a far greater environmental impact both in production and how they break down, and the shift to bags for life saw supermarkets increase the amount of plastic they use," she adds.
The beginning of the end for microplastics?
UK startup develops recyclable plastic material that biodegrades without producing microplastics
Microplastics could become a thing of the past thanks to a new technology from a British startup.
In a ground-breaking innovation, Polymateria has created a biodegradable plastic material that is also recyclable - two packaging properties that have often been deemed incompatible.
The plastic is designed to be recycled as a matter of priority but, thanks to Polymateria's time-controlled biotransformation technology, any items that escape refuse streams can return to nature without causing any harm, leaving behind no microplastics.
The claims have been independently verified by the British Standards Institution (BSI), through the development of a new British standard for biodegradable plastic.
This new BSI PAS 9017 standard is the first of its kind for measuring the biodegradability of polyolefins, the group of plastics that includes polyethylene and polypropylene - the most littered forms of plastic packaging.
"The reason plastic is so persistent in nature is because of the hard crystal structure," Polymateria's CEO Niall Dunne told Forbes magazine recently.
"Our breakthrough moment was when we first realised how to destroy the crystal structure - that’s the key to avoiding creating microplastics - and transform it into something that behaves like a grease or a wax."
This 'biotransformation' to a wax-like substance - which can be fully digested by microbes like natural bacteria and fungi - is key to Polymateria's breakthrough technology.
Their biotransformation additive is compatible with the normal plastic conversion process. It is formulated as a bespoke masterbatch, which is tailored to the polymer resin’s footprint, application profile and required use life.
Polythene-based products containing the technology break down in around 226 days, whilst polypropylene products break down in around 336 days, without creating any microplastics.
The development signals a positive change for the packaging industry, but the scale of the challenge is huge.
Tackling plastic waste
Global plastic waste production has doubled since the turn of the century, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with over 350 million metric tons of plastic waste produced every year.
Just 9% of this waste is successfully recycled globally, with the bulk ending up in landfill or being incinerated, but 22% evades waste management systems.
The OECD also reported that 40% of plastic waste comes from packaging with a lifetime of less than five years, so any developments to tackle this growing problem must be welcomed.
On the market
The good news is that this packaging development isn't just something in the pipeline. Polymateria's technology is already being adopted by several international brands, with products available to buy around the world.
In the UK, leading packaging manufacturer Polybags now produces a wide range of biodegradable bags made with Polymateria's biotransformation technology.
Polybags' market-leading eco packaging range now features clear biodegradable packing bags, biodegradable mailing bags, biodegradable carrier bags and biodegradable safety bags all made with the new additive.
Polybags has also setup a helpful biotransformation packaging information page, which includes a guide to how to dispose of the packaging after use, along with a fun eco-comparison tool that rates various forms of eco-packaging - including compostable and recycled packaging - across a variety of eco-factors.
Image courtesy of Polymateria.