- For anyone looking to do their bit to help the planet, one of the hottest topics these past few years has, of course, been plastic. Like many people, I felt the Blue Planet effect. I started saying no to single use plastic bottles. Plastic bags were swapped for totes. Clingfilm was out. Beeswax liners were in. And I still diligently check, wash, and recycle as much of the plastic we do use as possible.
But I've seen a couple of things recently that have made me question my recycling efforts. A couple of weeks ago, Greenpeace published a report revealing that the UK is still dumping plastic waste abroad, which means that some of that recycling you sort at home may end up being shipped thousands of miles away where it's dumped or burnt. And I saw a couple of tweets from a trusted expert saying that removing plastic packaging from some foods may actually increase their environmental impact rather than reduce it.
What on Earth is going on? Is recycling worth it? And can plastic actually be a good thing? Well, I'm going to find out. I'm Greg Foot. I'm a scientist turned science journalist and producer and today's investigation asks the question, is plastic packaging really all that bad?
Which Investigates is a new podcast from the UK's consumer champion. We work to make life simpler, fairer, and safer for everyone. And our mission for this podcast is simple. Find out the facts and see who's actually delivering on the promises we see on product packaging or in the media or shared around WhatsApp. Our first season focuses on putting claims of sustainability under the spotlight. From plant based to plastic free, eco travel to electric cars, I'll be figuring out what genuinely reduces our environmental footprint and what is simply greenwashing.
- Coming up, we've been getting hands onto find the real heroes and villains of supermarket packaging. We found that only 52%, just half of packaging can be easily recycled by shoppers at home.
- I chat to a scientist who suggests that we may actually need more packaging, not less.
- That's what we have seen when you calculate the impact of the different foods and the impact of the packaging.
- And we visit a supermarket of the future. There is a black lever that I'm going to pull down and do my best not to spill loads of pumpkin seeds everywhere. Let's give it a go.
But before all that, let's go back to where my investigation began. Hey, Ellie, looks like you've got the mic all set up. Nice. What's it balancing on?
- Inorganic chemistry book. What, you've got rid of the famous five and replaced it with chemistry.
Yeah. Yeah, I've upgraded. Which is the sort of thing we have to do when recording from home.
- So I'm Ellie Simmons, and I'm a senior researcher at Which.
- Thanks for chatting to me for the podcast. I read a report that Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigations Agency, they published it at the start of this year. And they looked at the plastic usage of the UK's 10 biggest supermarkets.
They found that together those top 10 chains put nearly 900,000 tonnes of plastic packaging onto the market. I wanted to talk to you because I'm keen to know, how much of that plastic packaging is actually recyclable? And you've led a Which investigation into exactly that, right?
- So we looked into this in 2018 and 2019. We looked at supermarket own brand packaging specifically. And we found that only 52%, just half of packaging can be easily recycled by shoppers at home. We also found that up to 29% of supermarket own label packaging was not easily recyclable at all.
- I'm surprised at that.
- Yeah, we were surprised.
- So what is and what isn't labelled as recyclable and how do I know as a consumer?
- So we looked at the labelling on all the products that we looked at and we found that 42% of packaging was either incorrectly labelled or not labelled at all. So we found that there were things that were recyclable that weren't labelled as such. And so, your average consumer wouldn't know to recycle them and probably would end up throwing it in the waste bin and ending up in landfill.
And there were other packaging with confusing labels where it just wasn't clear whether it was recyclable or not. There were also packaging where the label was just blatantly incorrect. You know it would say that you couldn't recycle it when you could or the other way around.
- Just feels like a complete mess for anyone who's trying to do their bit to help the planet.
- It's really confusing for consumers and it really depends where you live. Labelling often isn't entirely clear in terms of whether you can recycle the lid and the tray or just one or the other, whether you should wash it out, whether you need to rinse it.
- And you said that this was for supermarket own brand packaging. So let's get onto the branded packaging. I read a mad fact that Coca-Cola produces around 36,000 tonnes of plastic packaging in the UK each year, which is bonkers. I think that was according to written evidence that the company submitted to the government. What did you find?
- So we ran a similar investigation in 2020. We looked at 89 different popular grocery items, all branded, so things like Coca-Cola, things like Pringles, Walker's Crisps, Fanta, these sorts of products. And we found that only a third had packaging that was fully recyclable. So that's just a third out of those 89 products that we looked at. And we also found that almost four in 10 of those items had no Labelling to show whether or not they could be recycled.
- But there is some good news. Supermarkets are acting on this, right? What's been happening?
- So for example, Asda has replaced all its non-recyclable black plastic ready meal trays with colourful widely recyclable ones that are made of recycled plastic bottles. And they say that saves 775 tonnes from landfill or incineration. Marks & Spencer as well, it's big tub of chocolates used to come in a plastic tub. And they switched that to a cardboard tub.
- Chocolate is something I always think about. I know that feeling well.
- Bars come in shiny wrappers. And I don't think they're recyclable. Generally, the wrapper that comes that's a kind of foil and plastic mix, we found it on the dairy milk that we looked at, the Cadbury dairy milk, that isn't recyclable. So that's not a great example of packaging. So your traditional Kit Kat for example, comes with an old fashioned foil wrapper with a paper strip around it and that's completely recyclable.
I was surprised to hear from Ellie that only half of supermarket own brand packaging can be easily recycled, even less for branded stuff. And that the Labelling is still so poor across the board. As we know, if plastic packaging can't be recycled or if we throw resealable plastic packaging away without recycling it, it's likely to end up where the rest of our waste goes, in landfill. And according to the World Wildlife Foundation, some plastics, like a simple water bottle can take 450 years to decompose.
Then there's the plastic polluting of the sea. That WWF say as much as half a million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the Mediterranean Sea every year. They say that few animals escape the impacts of plastic pollution, and that as microplastics and the toxic contaminants attached to them are eaten by birds, fish, and other sea life, they put potentially harmful toxins into not only their bodies, but anything that eats them. And that can accumulate up the food chain until it gets to us.
So is plastic packaging really that bad? Well, so far it's as I expected, yeah. Facts and figures like this are easy motivation to encourage each of us to recycle more when we can. But if the stuff we do sort, wash, and recycle, can just end up in landfill thousands of miles away, what's the point?
Well the point, of course, is that that doesn't happen to all of our recycling. And any plastic that can be turned into other products, rather than going into landfill, is a good thing, isn't it? Greenpeace said that this international dumping is happening because our recycling system is overwhelmed by plastic waste. So clearly, we need less plastic.
But what about those claims that more plastic could actually lower a product's footprint? Those questions are where my investigation led next. But first, it's time for a spot of history. I asked food historian, Seren Charrington-Hollins to give us a quick wrap up of the history of packaging. Wrap up, get it?
- Originally packaging was created out of necessity and a need to solve a transportation problem. While our hunter gatherer ancestors ate in accordance with natural seasons in abundance, they still required packaging to make transportation and consumption more effective. Things such as hollow shells, gourds, hollowed out woods, and animal skins and bladders were used to transport cheeses, wines, oils, and other liquid and granular substances.
Paper may be the oldest form of what today's referred to as a flexible packaging. Treated mulberry bark was used by the Chinese to wrap foods as early as the first and second century BC. And eventually, our first commercial paper bags were manufactured back in 1844. Of course commercial cardboard boxes were already manufactured and had been produced in England from 1817 onwards.
Indeed packaging that used paper and cardboard remained popular into the 20th century. Glass again, as another ancient craft that has been used for packaging for many centuries. But it's really during the 17th and 18th century that the developments that allowed what we think of as traditional bottles and jars to be developed.
It took even longer for the tin can for food preservation to be invented, only coming into being in the 1800s in France. Though the history of the tin can was far from plain sailing, for despite lucrative naval commissions, there were plenty of food safety scandals and concerns. Although discovered in the 19th century, most plastics were reserved for military and wartime use.
The meat industry and the deli industry really took on board things such as styrene trays and tubs. But we had to wait until the 1980s for plastics to be suitable for hot filling for things such as jams and condiments. But the search for reuse and functions continues. And we all ask the question, do we really need packaging for a cucumber?
- Thanks, Seren. Super interesting to hear how packaging evolved from hollowed out gourds and mulberry bark wraps to paper bags and tin cans, and of course, the current packaging king, plastics. But as more of us call for its reign to end, we must ask why is plastic still used I put that question to Ellie when we first chatted.
You know, the desire is there from consumers. The material is there. Have we not just been banging that drum enough?
- I think it's really a whole number of reasons. I think that it's to do with not banging the drum enough. And I think Which is banging that drum. I think consumers are more interested in it now. There's more of a momentum there than there was.
I think there were also particular issues with particular groceries that make it trickier. So we've talked about chocolate, and that is an easier one to make a change. But there are other things like crisps, where it's really important that they're crunchy and that they give a nice crisp sound when you bite into them. And therefore they need to be protected in something that's airtight. And so then the packaging comes in a little bit more complex to change.
And there are also legacy issues to do with the machinery that brands have or manufacturers have, I should say, to make the packaging. So some of the machinery will only operate on certain packaging types. So therefore to make a change in the packaging, they would need to change all of their machinery. Now obviously that's possible. And we would like to see that. But that's perhaps why some of these changes aren't quite as forthcoming as you might think at first glance.
- After my chat to Ellie, I dug into this a little bit more. I found a report by Zero Waste Europe and Friends of the Earth that said packaging practises may be driven by brand and sales objectives rather than waste reduction.
- Oh, marketing.
- Packaging helps products catch our eye and plastic offers two added benefits. Firstly, it's an easy material to add colour and design to. And secondly, on the flip side of that being colourless means you can see the food and choose what looks the freshest.
The biggest reason plastic is still used though, is that in lots of ways it's a great material. It's cheap. It can be flexible. It can be strong. And it protects what's inside. And here's the thing. That protection stops the food inside from going off.
In fact, I read this surprising line in a 2008 report from the Advisory Committee on Packaging, a group set up by the UK government.
- The use of just 1.5 grammes of plastic film for wrapping a cucumber can extend its shelf life from three days to 14 days. And selling grapes in plastic bags or trays has reduced in-store wastage of grapes by 20%.
- If that cucumber or bunch of grapes went soggy or mouldy sooner, it would likely be thrown away. It's likely it will go into landfill, where it would decompose and produce methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Now with apparently 88 million tonnes of food being wasted every year in the EU, which is around 173 kilogrammes of food being wasted per person. That's a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, 3.3 billion metric tonnes in fact, according to one report.
But I wanted to know, how do these balance out? Can the benefits you get from that plastic reducing food waste actually be greater than the environmental impact of the plastic itself? Do you save more greenhouse gases from the food not going off than you produce making and disposing of that plastic wrap? I'd read a Swedish study that looked into just that. So I dropped its lead author a line.
- Thank you for inviting me to this conversation. My name is Helén Williams and I'm an associate professor at Karlstad University. It is more complex with what packaging you should use in order to reduce the environmental impact. The more resources you use for the food, the more important it is of course to make sure that all of that valuable resources get consumed in the end.
So it all depends on what food you're packaging and how much resources you can use for the packaging. So there are no simple answers. But I can say that people in general tend to not see all of the environmental impact in regard to producing food and tend to overestimate the environmental impact on packaging in general.
- So just to clarify, on foods that have a really high environmental impact, that have a lot of carbon emissions, a lot of invested carbon in the production of them, a lot of high water footprint, like rice has a massive water footprint, and of course as does meat as well. With products like that, you're saying that because the equivalent emissions of the plastic that is used in their packaging is so small in proportion to the foodstuff that really the focus there should be on do everything we can to minimise the wastage of that food, i.e. packaging there is not the bad guy. The bad guy there is wasting that food, is that right?
- Yeah that's right.
- Helén, this therefore means that you're suggesting that in some cases actually more packaging is better for the environment than less packaging.
- Yes. That's what we have seen when you calculate the impact of the different foods and the impact of the packaging, that is where you can end up, in some cases. But then I also need to as a researcher, we are always like, can you please give me a simple answer? And it's so difficult, but because it also depends, of course what's happened in the end.
- By that you mean it's end of life impact. So how and where it gets disposed of.
- Yeah, for countries where you have a lot of packaging, sorting, collection, and recycling in place, you can also use more packaging material.
- Thank you so much.
- Thank you.
- So my chat with Helén suggests that the answer to the question is plastic packaging really that bad, could actually be, well, not always. If a small amount of plastic can be used to save more potential greenhouse gas emissions than are used to make and dispose of that plastic, then an argument can be made for its use.
But that's only going to be for high footprint, perishable food stuffs, and only if it's being used somewhere the packaging can be recycled. Otherwise the scale quickly tips in favour of using less plastic, regardless of saved food waste. But this isn't a calculation that us consumers are going to be able to easily do ourselves.
These decisions need to happen much higher up the chain, led by manufacturers and brands. The problem there being that we've heard how they aren't driven by a need to reduce the climate impact of their foods. However, there's a question here you may be yelling at me right now.
OK, extra packaging may sometimes be justified. And plastic is a great material for the reasons I explored earlier. So we can't disregard it completely. But does that extra packaging, indeed, any packaging, need to be plastic?
We tend to focus on what happens to plastic when we're finished using it. How much of it is thrown away, ending up in landfill or in the ocean and the environmental impact that has, or how much of it is burned and the greenhouse gases that produces. But plastics high carbon footprint also comes from, what it's made of, oil or natural gas.
Plastic is just another form of fossil fuel. And according to Friends of the Earth, plastic production is already responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. There are loads of plastic alternatives being developed and used right now, packaging that's derived from non fossil fuel sources, materials like sugarcane fibre packaging, plant based combustibles, 100% recycled fibre paperboard. And we could do a whole episode investigating whether these alternatives offer a genuinely sustainable solution.
But today we're going to keep focused on plastics themselves. Although I did go down one research rabbit hole that I want to share with you. Here are the facts on compostable coffee cups in two minutes.
They were the focus of one of the first real campaigns and apparent successes to come out of the Blue Planet effect, with lots of the lovely little independent coffee shops quickly switching to them. For the environmentally conscious of us, seeing that word compostable on a cup feels like a little pat on the back. But again, I read a report that made me question their eco credentials.
Yes, these bioplastics are greener than traditional plastics as they're plant based not fossil fuel based. But a lot of local authorities simply won't accept them in their food and garden waste collections for two very simple reasons. Firstly, they often can't easily tell the difference between a bioplastic that would degrade and a traditional plastic that wouldn't. So to prevent possible contamination of the compost they just remove them all.
And secondly, the way a lot of councils compost their compostibles simply won't work on many of these new materials. Most require an industrial composter that give bioplastics like coffee cups the right combination of warmth, oxygen, microbes, and moisture that they need to break down in around 12 weeks. In landfill, which is an environment that is deliberately sealed, they'll just sit there, along with all the other waste. And similarly, they won't break down very well if they get into the ocean either.
In fact, because of these two reasons, the difficulty sorting them and the lack of conditions to actually compost them, Friends of the Earth told us that their investigation found that most London councils simply advise you to throw hard bioplastics like compostable coffee cups in the bin. The only real exception is compostable bin liners and other bioplastic wraps, the ones that have the seedling logo on them are tested and approved for all composting methods. So yes, these materials are often better for the planet because being plant based means their production and end of life impacts should be lower than a new virgin fossil fuel based plastic equivalent.
And it's great that more and more companies are looking to use bioplastics of varying types and that some types can compost. But councils need to upgrade their composting methods so that the benefits of the other bioplastics can be achieved. Until then sadly, your compostable coffee cup can't be recycled or easily broken down.
Back to fossil fuel based plastic then. And it's time to hear how producer Rob got on during his trip to a supermarket of the future. Now it was clear from the conversations I'd had in the reports I'd read quite how much plastic impacts the planet. And although only half of supermarket own brand packaging could be easily recycled, our recycling system is overwhelmed by plastic waste.
I'd assumed my investigation would lead me to conclude that first and foremost, we need to be recycling more. However, although that is clearly the case, I quickly realised recycling isn't actually the most important thing to prioritise. And here's why.
Recycling is hugely energy intensive. It's hugely water intensive. And that's why you may have heard this before. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It's worth it. It is worth it. It's an oldie, but it's a goodie.
The key is that you need to do it in that order. Reducing the amount of single use plastic you buy will clearly benefit the planet the most. And coming in above recycling in the eco rankings is reusing. Now I know, I know, you're saying, Greg, this is not a new idea.
For years, many small independent stores have been giving you the option to bring in your own container and fill it with lentils or coffee beans or pasta or whatever. But why don't the big supermarket chains do the same? Well, they're worried about how to make something like that work at scale. And they're not sure if us consumers would go for it.
But there are some that are trying to follow in the footsteps of these future thinking independents. And as producer, Rob, lives just down the road from one of a few stores trialling something called unpacked. He went along to try it out.
- So it's lunchtime and I have taken myself to the picturesque, quaint Oxfordshire market town of Wallingford. I'm a Waitrose and Partners here to check out their unpacked offering. They say they've been able to remove more than 200 products from packaging. So I thought, why not give it a go?
So I'm going to go inside now. I should say, of course, just going to pop my mask on. And as you can probably hear, we're now inside the store. And then I get to aisle number six. We have the first integrated Waitrose unpacked display. Now in front of me are the words reduce, reuse, refill. And to the right of me we have a big freezer. We just lift the lid up.
I'm just going to pause that there for a second if I can, Rob. What was in the freezers? Because if the whole trial is about being unpacked, I'm presuming it was just giant buckets of frozen fruit that you scoop out?
- Yes, you have a pile of scoops that you could use. And then in the freezer you had butternut squash. You had, I think, sweet potato in there. And then every type of fruit you could possibly imagine pretty much. You had cherries, blueberries, raspberries. And then above that, that's where you have the hoppers with the dry produce, everything else like the rice, the quinoa, because of course it's Waitrose.
- OK, well let's see how that goes. Let's get back to your report.
- So let's have some pumpkin seeds, something I know we always use in our house for some porridge. And now there is a black lever that I'm going to pull down and do my best not to spill loads of pumpkin seeds everywhere. Let's give it a go.
I've got a container with the barcode which is this paper bag. And now it asks you to scan a barcode. And you've got one of these fun barcode scanners. Let's give this a try. I'm going to try and use the label to seal this. Because the last thing I want is pumpkin seeds all over my bag. So, I'm going to scan the barcode.
Finish and pay. I'm not going to get a receipt. Just going to put my bags down there in my reusable shopping bag and off I go.
- And how was your porridge?
- As ever, delicious. But really, really impressed with the set up at Waitrose.
- It sounds great and I actually used to live in Canterbury and I remember a shop that used to have a huge refillable section like this. So I am really glad that the larger supermarkets are starting to pilot doing exactly the same. Think of the amount of plastic that that would save.
- Waitrose is the supermarket that has been doing this for the longest. But we've now got M&S announcing recently, it's going to plan to open up fill your own sections in 11 stores. That's by mid-June. Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, and the Central England Cooperative as well. They're all looking at it. So big tick in the reduce box.
- Yeah, and of course it's all about reusing. So tick in that box as well. Right, Rob, I'm going to give Ellie a quick call to bring her back because I know that she's been doing some research that will add to this.
- Hi. Thanks so much. Just been talking to Rob about his trip to Waitrose and seeing refillables in store. I know that you've been doing a lot of really recent research on refillables at home, right?
- We at Which looked at refillables, so the type where you buy an original bottle once and then you order or you buy from the supermarket a refill that you then fill up the original bottle with and the refill is generally something that's more eco-friendly.
- And what sort of refillables are popular at home?
- So we looked mainly at personal care and cleaning products, liquids, they're the ones that were best at home. So things like shampoo, hand wash, obviously a big one during the pandemic, antivac spray, hair conditioner, all these sorts of things.
- So, Rob, yours were more food related, I'm guessing, in store.
- There was also some of the cleaning products that you've just mentioned there, Ellie. There was a refill station dedicated to washing up liquid, detergent, soap. You know they are also rolling those out in store as well.
- OK, interesting. So, Ellie, tell us. I know you looked into their claims about whether they will save money and whether they'll use less plastic. What did you find?
- So you'll definitely save money. That's the good news. We looked at 12 refillable products that you can refill at home. And we found 11 of them were cheaper, kind of by volume than their non-refillable original counterparts.
Some products were much cheaper, such as the eco for washing up liquid. That was almost half the price of the original. Was 44% cheaper. So you'll save a significant amount.
- Wow. What about the claims that refillable use less plastic? What's the evidence?
- So a notable trailblazer was Carax. Its handwash comes in a refillable pouch, so a flexible plastic refillable pouch and you use that to pour it into your kind of harder plastic original bottle of handwash, which has got a pump. And that claims to use 85% less plastic.
- If they've got less plastic then they weigh less. They probably take up less space on the lorries, which means more can be transported, which means the transport costs, environmental transport cost per unit is less.
- Yeah, refillables are amazing for that and some of the stats that we found in our investigation were really interesting. So obviously, they take up less weight for the proportion of liquid that they're carrying. But it's not just that because when they're empty, and they're taken on their onward journey empty, they can flatten down.
So that means that they take up even less space on the lorry. That means less lorries. That means less carbon emissions. So research has shown that 30 plastic bottles require about the same amount of storage and shipping space as 840 pouches. So that's really quite a statistic, I think, and really makes you stop in your tracks and think about how refillables can make really quite a big difference.
- OK, so that is a significantly lower amount of plastic per volume of the handwash. But is that pouch itself recyclable?
- So this is the really complex issue that we found in at home refillables. So no that refill pouch isn't recyclable in your average household collection. There are schemes around that will recycle it. Terracycle is one and the logo is on the Carax hand wash pouch.
That's the scheme where you send it off or drop it off at a collection point and it's recycled. It's a private scheme as opposed to the council's scheme, which is the one where they pick it up from your bin out on the pavement outside your house. So that can be quite confusing, I think, for people the refill, the so-called eco refill comes in a pouch that's not recyclable.
Whereas actually, ironically, if you like the original bottle is actually recyclable. And that's a tricky issue to get your head around, the idea that you're reusing your original bottle is more important than the potentially negative side, which is that that pouch is not recyclable. It also uses less plastic. So that's a bonus.
- Is it actually clear when you buy something that there's a refill for it available?
- We were absolutely amazed that while the refillable were doing this fantastic job and they were great products, they weren't shouting about it themselves. So of the 12 products we looked at, we found nine didn't even say that they were refillable. So you could be easily forgiven for using that product, throwing it in the waste or the recycling, and not ever knowing that a refill option existed, when you might be more than interested in going out and buying it.
- That's what was so impressive about the Waitrose trip, as you've already heard in my report. They have integrated all of this into the store. It's not hidden away at the back. And that's what it feels like we need to see more of.
- There are also delivery options for refillables too, aren't there? One initiative that I came across is called Loop, who are in partnership with Tesco. And they claim to help you get the products you love delivered in zero waste packaging that is cleaned and refilled to be used again and again. This sounds brilliant. Have you come across this, Ellie?
Yeah, it sounds absolutely great. We haven't looked at it in any level of detail. But certainly at face value, it sounds brilliant. And reusing stuff is absolutely the way forwards and it's there at the top of the hierarchy. Is it's the way that you can make the biggest difference.
- Rob, after your unpacked shopping experience, would you use that if it was on your doorstep?
- Absolutely, and this time I promise to remember my Tupperware. But 100%. It is easy. It's simple. I found it cheaper. It just makes perfect sense for me and I'm definitely somebody that finds myself looking at some packaging in the kitchen every night pretty much, while I'm making dinner, thinking which bin is this going to go into?
Refillables, that's not a problem. So I will save myself time, not only on my shopping trip, but also in the kitchen in the evening, when I'm trying to work out what I'm going to do with this wrapper or with this bit of plastic.
- And, Ellie, thanks very much for your experience and for joining us on a couple of calls during this investigation. What's your takeaway from all this?
- So I think the takeaways are you should absolutely buy refillables when you can. And that's something that I'm definitely doing as much as I possibly can. And I think the other takeaway, the main takeaway, is that there's a lot more that can be done. Manufacturers need to do more. Supermarkets need to do more.
And actually, all of our investigations that we've done over the years, and we've done quite a few of them, have left us as Which really realising that more needs to be done. And our central call in all of this is that we believe the government needs to bring in mandatory recycling Labelling on grocery packaging so that it eliminates any form of confusion for shoppers. And they will know, so, Rob, you standing in your kitchen in the evening, you wouldn't have that problem because the wrappers would be clearly labelled as to whether or not it can be recyclable.
And if it can't be recyclable, what you might be able to do to recycle it, so for example, take it to your local supermarket collection point. And we believe that only by clear Labelling will shoppers get the information that they need. And also, it will provide an impetus for manufacturers and supermarkets to do more to make their packaging recyclable. Because they will want to be putting on a label that says it's recyclable rather than not recyclable.
Ellie, thanks so much. Brilliant to talk to you throughout this investigation and I'm sure we'll talk to you again. Thank you.
- Thank you for having me. It's been great to share what we've been doing.
- So is plastic packaging really that bad? On the whole, yes. A plastic water bottle can take 450 years to decompose. Half a million tonnes of plastic waste go into the Mediterranean Sea over a year, putting toxins into the food chain that we may eventually consume.
And our plastic recycling is ending up around the world. It's being burned and it's releasing greenhouse gases into someone else's backyard. But, not all plastic is bad. On some occasions, plastic, even single use plastic, can actually help a product have a lower environmental impact. But that is the rarity, not the norm.
The old adage is right. Reduce, reuse, recycle, in that order. Refillables are the way forwards. Taking an old container somewhere that you can fill it up, reusing it for as long as you possibly can before recycling it, either in your house or collection if possible, or by taking it to a supermarket collection point. Or maybe get involved in a delivery refillables option.
As ever, we need to drive change with our voices and with our wallets. We need to tell the supermarkets and the manufacturers that we want to do our bit. And it's on them to make sure we can.
If you want to read more about what you've heard in this episode, full sources are in the show notes. In the next Which Investigates, I'll be asking whether your phone is deliberately designed to have a short shelf life. If you enjoyed this podcast, please do rate and review us wherever you get yours. We're new kids on the block so that will really help people discover us.
More episodes are on their way, so do follow us to catch them. And if you've got something you'd like us to investigate, get in touch. I'm @ Greg Foot and Which is @ Which UK on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Here at Which we're making sustainability key to what we do, from how we assess the products and services we review to the way we run our whole organisation. That's why this first season of Which Investigates is dedicated to helping you make the sustainable choices you've told us are so important.
We've got new reviews, and advice every day on Which.co@UK that will give you the power to make the best decisions for you and the planet. And if you want to make the most of your money with everyday personal finance tips, then why not have a listen to our sister show the Which Money Podcast.
This podcast was presented and produced by me, Greg Foot, produced, recorded, and edited by Rob Lilly, and the executive producer was Angus Farker. Special thanks go to Richard Headland, Michael Briggs, Ellie Simmons, Yvette Fletcher, and Emily Seymour. I'll see you next time.