packaging waste collection
Reducing packaging waste

How to Reduce Packaging Waste

Businesses and households across the UK must work to reduce packaging waste, as it’s one of the main waste types we produce. Packaging is everywhere you turn – from wrapped-up sandwiches and crisp packets to pallets of deliveries for warehouses. Many packaging is essential but there are ways to reduce packaging waste.

The numbers around the challenge of packaging waste reduction are staggering. It’s estimated that the UK generates 11 billion items of packaging waste every year from buying lunch alone, while half of all plastic is used to create packaging materials. And UK households produce around 12.5 million tonnes of packaging waste annually.

Reducing packaging waste is a big challenge but there are actions both businesses and households can take to minimise your impact. Reducing, reusing, and recycling should be the priority when dealing with any packaging materials. Find out how to reduce packaging waste from your business or home with these tips.

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Why should we reduce 
packaging waste?

Homes in the UK throw away 100 billion bits of plastic packaging every year – the equivalent of 66 pieces of used packaging from all households each week. And that’s just plastic packaging waste. We create tons of packaging waste from other materials such as paper, cardboard, metal, glass, and wood.

The good news is that UK government figures show 63.2% of packaging waste is recycled from homes across the country. However, that means around one-third of all waste packaging materials are not recycled, reused, or recovered. Instead, they’re sent to landfill sites, for incineration, or other less sustainable disposal methods.

Any packaging in landfill can take tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years to break down. It takes up valuable space, produces leachate that can pollute nearby ground and water, and contributes to the release of methane. Reducing packaging waste avoids the risk of any such materials making their way to landfill sites.

packaging waste in front of a bin.

How to reduce packaging waste 
in your business

Businesses that use or produce packaging – or sell packaged goods – may be an obligated packaging producer. Such businesses must reduce how much packaging they produce, minimise the amount of packaging waste sent to landfill, and increase their recycling rates for packaging materials.

Organisations that aren’t an obligated packaging producer should still aim to reduce packaging waste. All businesses are responsible for reducing, reusing, and recycling waste (including packaging) in line with the waste duty of care rules. To do this, there are various ways to reduce packaging waste as a business:

  • Use recyclable packaging – if your business produces or sources its own packaging materials then go for recyclable and/or biodegradable options. This is an easy way to ensure as much packaging as possible you’re responsible for is kept out of landfill. Avoid plastic packaging where possible as it’s often harder to recycle.
  • Design minimal packaging for products – consider ways to store, transport, and present your products with as little packaging as possible. Large boxes and excess interior packaging add weight and take up more space to create inefficient and expensive packaging and transportation too.
  • Partner with sustainable suppliers – try to only order goods, products, and materials from suppliers that use recyclable or minimal packaging to reduce your waste. Source any packaging solutions from businesses that use recycled and/or recyclable packaging materials as well.
  • Offer loose options – does everything you sell need to be packaged up? There’s a growing consumer trend for bringing along bags and containers for refills of certain items to reduce packaging waste. Find ways to eliminate packaging where possible and it’ll boost consumer confidence in your business.
  • Bale your packaging waste use a baler or compactor to literally reduce the volume of cardboard and paper packaging. This helps save space on your premises and reduces the frequency of waste collection, which uses less fuel. Even some types of plastic packaging can be baled before it’s sent for recycling.

How to reduce packaging 
waste at home

Households in the UK throw away around 12.5 million tonnes of packaging waste every year, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). Just over eight million tonnes are recycled but that means more than four million tonnes of domestic packaging waste are disposed of in other ways.

Individuals can help improve domestic packaging recycling rates with a few small actions in their daily lives. Checking the material and whether it’s recyclable at home is a good start, but there are other options to minimise the amount of packaging waste you create. Consider these ways to reduce packaging waste in your household:

  • Bulk buy goods – buying items in bulk often uses less packaging. The goods come in one large package rather than various smaller containers that might also be individually wrapped. If you’ve got enough storage space it’s a simple way to reduce your packaging use.
  • Carry reusables – take bags or boxes with you when you go food shopping to avoid buying carrier bags. Have a reusable water bottle to hand for refills at work or at any fountain. Carry a reusable flask or plastic cup with a lid for coffee, tea, or hot chocolate from your favourite coffee shop to avoid using disposable plastic cups.
  • Purchase loose items – avoid excess packaging by seeking out shops where you can buy goods loose. Many places let you take in reusable containers to fill with dry goods such as pasta, rice, and coffee. Buy bread and baked goods from a local bakery and they’re less likely to wrap them up in plastic too.
Packaging waste facts
  • Shop second-hand – if you need new furniture, electricals, toys, sporting equipment, or anything else it’s more sustainable (and cheaper) to go second-hand. This also saves on lots of plastic and cardboard packaging. You might receive the item in the original packaging or without it, but either way, it saves on making more packaging waste.
  • Cook at home takeaways are a big source of packaging waste for consumers, from the bag your food arrives in to the polystyrene containers that keep them warm. Buying loose food items and cooking yourself is a simple way to prevent producing food packaging waste at home. You can recycle paper bags but check with your local authority about polystyrene and plastic containers.
empty glass bottles and jars packaging.

How to reduce 
plastic packaging

Plastic is one of the most problematic kinds of packaging waste. There are many types of plastic used for packaging purposes, from wraps to bags and solid containers. Not all plastic is recyclable, which is why much higher volumes of plastic packaging waste end up in landfill and are disposed of irresponsibly.

While just over 63% of domestic packaging waste is recycled, only 44.2% of plastic packaging is recycled from UK households. That’s a long way behind glass, metal, paper and cardboard packaging, which all have recycling rates above 70%. Finding ways to reduce plastic packaging is vital. Use these tips for how to reduce plastic packaging waste:

  • Optimise your orders – avoid overordering items as a business as this leads to waste products and excess waste packaging. Bulk ordering uses less packaging than individual and smaller orders too. Check your ordering process is efficient and takes into account any packaging.
  • Switch to sustainable materials – businesses should move away from using plastic packaging where possible. Go for paper, cardboard, and even glass alternatives as these materials are much easier to recycle. If you’re buying as a business or consumer check for options with easily recyclable packaging.
  • Set achievable goals – encourage plastic packaging reduction by having aims for your business. This is a great way to track your performance and ensure any changes work. Focus on areas of your business where plastic packaging is commonly used and build up steps for reduction slowly.
  • Book milk deliveries – homes and businesses can arrange deliveries of milk in glass bottles. Most milk delivery services will take away and reuse your old glass milk bottles, while glass is much easier to recycle than plastic milk bottles anyway.
  • Sack off single-use plastic – the UK government has introduced a single-use plastic ban, but some items are exempt. Still, finding alternatives to polystyrene packaging and disposable plastic cups is ideal.
Read our plastic packaging tax guide

How to reduce 
food packaging waste

Food packaging is another big source of waste for businesses and consumers. Many items of food must come in packaging for health and safety reasons. Some foodstuffs use more packaging than necessary and create avoidable waste. These are five ways to reduce food packaging waste in your home or business:

  • Grow your own food – if you’ve got a garden, allotment, or just a small outside space with room for a few planters you could try growing your own fruit and vegetables. This avoids using or producing any packaging (except the small packets any seeds come in, which are normally recyclable).
  • Avoid cling film – thin plastic films are normally too small to be recycled, so avoid buying food packaged as such. When storing leftovers use a glass or other reusable container rather than cling film, as it’s not recyclable especially once contaminated with food.
  • Stay away from fast food – some of the worst offenders of food packaging waste are convenience and fast-food options. Prepackaged meals normally use lots of packaging to maintain any freshness, while fast food outlets usually serve up meals in bags and boxes that don’t get recycled.
  • Make meal plans – create a meal plan for the week then stick to it when shopping for ingredients so you don’t overbuy and end up with excess waste packaging. Check your list and find ways to minimise how many packaged items you buy. This could be choosing bulk options or visiting a refill shop instead.
  • Go for glass and cans – choose foodstuffs in glass and metal packaging materials rather than plastic where possible. Glass bottles and jars are easily recyclable while most local authorities accept clean and dry metal cans in household recycling collections. Plastic packaging waste can be trickier to recycle in most cases.

Read more waste reduction guides

After you’ve reduced your packaging waste you might want to find out how to reduce waste across other areas of your life. Read up on our expert tips to reduce waste in your home or business with these guides.

How to reduce waste
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