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May 19, 2017

Packaged to excess

by Jackie Marshall - Senior Account Director

Packaged to excess

Religiously putting out our recycling bins for collection this week, I reflected on how much the focus on the environment has changed over the last decade. The emphasis has moved from a concept of us very consciously “doing our bit” and has evolved into an integral part of our everyday lives both inside and outside of the home.

On a worldwide scale, interest in the environment continues to grow. This April more than 1 billion people across the globe participated in Earth Day activities. As part of this momentum to engage and involve us all, the spotlight is firmly pointing at both good and bad examples.

This week, adverse publicity hit both Pringles and Lucozade Sport as The Recycling Association highlighted them as being amongst the worst offenders for having packaging that is difficult to recycle or reuse. Specific criticisms included the fact that the large number of materials in Pringles make it harder for the recycling machines to separate them. Elements in this distinctive brand’s packaging, including metal base, plastic cap, metal tear-off lid and foil-lined cardboard sleeve, were described as a “nightmare”.

Lucozade Sport attracted criticism as whilst the bottle itself is recyclable, the sleeve enclosing it is made from a different sort of plastic.

Responding to the criticism, Lucozade Sport said that it takes its responsibility seriously and both reducing the weight of its bottles and blowing them on site are a bid to minimizing its carbon footprint. Kellogg Company, owner of Pringles replied with assurances that they are continually working to improve their environmental performance. They also point out that the elements within the packaging work to keep the product fresh, thus reducing food waste.

Another area attracting huge positive attention is the great work being undertaken to reduce the environmental impact of disposable coffee cups. An estimated 2.5 billion paper cups are used in the UK and claims are that only one in 400 are recycled, leaving the rest to be sent to landfill or destroyed.

Over the summer last year, Starbucks started a trial in conjunction with the eco-friendly recyclable Frugalpac in a number of stores. This eco-friendly cup, invented by the Entrepreneur Martin Myerscough, has a thin film liner designed to separate easily from the paper in the recycling process, leaving 100% paper.  

Since November 2016, Costa Coffee, the UK’s largest coffee chain has introduced a recycling scheme across all of its stores encouraging customers to deposit used disposable cups from its stores and those of its competitors. Veolia, Costa’s waste partner then treats them in specialist waste processing plants. This significant initiative potentially recycles around 30m takeaway cups from Costa alone.

Meanwhile a new scheme in the City of London aimed at preventing five million cups a year ending up in landfill has been launched in conjunction with Network Rail, coffee chains and some employers through dedicated coffee cup recycling facilities in offices, shops and streets points. This builds on a smaller pilot scheme undertaken in Manchester, where the environmental charity Hubbub managed to achieve an impressive 20,000 cup haul from one street over three months.

Leading a constructive approach to improving the outlook for the industry, a competition to be launched later this year by Prince Charles will be awarding a £1.5m prize for inventors to devise products that are practical and easy to recycle.

In another initiative, campaigning by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has resulted in the introduction of the industry group Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group (PCRRG) tasked with looking at the issue in more detail. Thus far, 30 companies have signed up to a pledge to significantly increase paper cup recycling rates by 2020, including Caffè Nero, Costa, Starbucks, McDonalds, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Greggs and Pret a Manger.

This impressive resourcefulness shows that when acting collectively we can move ever further towards an eco-friendly environment that we can all enjoy and benefit from.

Something to think about next time you are putting out the bins perhaps?

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Packaging, Retail

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