Time to stop the pop? Retailers should strive to make all their own brand packaging easily recyclable.

With the furore around packaging waste in the UK seemingly reaching fever pitch, consumers and the press are increasingly protesting, boycotting and calling-out product packaging which is deemed bad for the environment.

Walkers have recently bowed to the pressure of consumers posting empty crisp packets back to them with demands to recycle them by setting up in-store collection points. Kelloggs are now under fire about their packaging for Pringles which has been dubbed as “the worst packaging offender” by industry experts.

Kelloggs have responded by striking a deal with TerraCycle which allows shoppers to send empty Pringles packs freepost to TerraCycle where they will be turned into pellets.

This move does beg the question: what percentage of shoppers are going to make the effort to download and print off the freepost label and then take their saved Pringles tubes (no point making the trip for one tube) to the post box? Even the most conscientious recyclers (me included) would find that a stretch.

There is an increasing number of schemes like this being implemented in the UK. Colgate have also partnered with TerraCycle to recycle old toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and caps, packaging etc. I applaud this move but when looking at where I can take my family’s dental waste, I find that the nearest drop-off location to me is almost 30 miles away.

Rather than putting the onus on the consumer to make all the effort, what seems the right direction for these big brands, including Kelloggs and their Pringles tubes, to go in, is to redesign the packaging. In the case of Pringles, it’s the composite cardboard and foil tube with the plastic lid which is impossible for council recycling facilities to handle. Of course the tube is a big part of the Pringles branding and it would be a bold move to make a drastic change to this. But what about the resulting marketing opportunities? “We realise our packaging is impossible to be recycled by most household waste facilities and therefore we’ve made a drastic change to enable this to happen.” Cue rounds of applause from environmental shoppers and indifference from those who don’t care. The moustached face on each Pringles tube is so synonymous with the brand that carrying that over to a new packet would mean shoppers can still find Pringles on the shelf.

With the current TerraCycle deal, it doesn’t look like Kelloggs are going to make the shift any time soon with Pringles. But what about our supermarket retailers and their copycat own brand products? Aldi and Lidl also sell curvy crisps in an un-recyclable tube. What if they made the pledge to make their own brand packaging for ambient goods recyclable like they are trying to do for fresh fruit and veg?

This would give them an edge against the national brand and another reason for conscientious shoppers (hello, Millennials!) to shop with them over their competitors.

It isn’t easy to re-design food packaging to make it fully recyclable while keeping the contents fresh and tasty. But there must be a solution which is better in recycling terms than the current composite tube. The answer to this problem almost certainly lies within the retailer’s supply base. The manufacturers are the experts in their product and are best placed to work with the retailer on alternative packaging solutions.

In the meantime, why don’t supermarkets offer in-store collection of their own brand packaging (and that of national brands too, while they’re at it) which they can send in bulk for recycling?

An even bigger question is: how many park benches do we need? This seems to be the most popular use for the plastic pellets produced by Pringles tubes, crisp packets etc will be turned into. Not exactly a circular model for recycling but better than it ending up in the ocean. If retailers can find a way to close the recycling loop with their product packaging, that would be a massive achievement they can shout about and one that would bring in eco-conscious shoppers in their droves.

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Kelly Cookson

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