People might think that by eliminating plastic shopping bags they are doing their bit for the environment. There has been too much focus on shopping bags when there is too much packaging generally. The total amount of packaging has increased dramatically over the last half-century and now makes up the largest share of municipal solid waste. Everything we buy seems to come in disposable packaging – you can now buy individually wrapped prunes for goodness sake!

Anything and everything that people do to minimise waste is good, like taking reusable bags to the supermarket. But a quick survey of the packaging in your shopping bags after a visit to the supermarket will show that plastic shopping bags are a small percentage of the total amount of packaging that is purchased.

The majority of recycling programs only accept PET (type 1) and HDPE (type 2) plastic. This means that plastic types 3-7 go into landfills. Learn more about recycling codes on our plastic recycling page.

Tips to reduce packaging

Even if packaging is recyclable it still takes materials and energy to make it in the first place. Here are a few tips to reduce the amount of packaging you purchase:

  • Buy fresh, unpackaged food. Farmers markets are good for this. They are doubly good because the food is local too. In fact they are triply good because there is no middleman, you pay less but the farmer gets more.
  • Buy concentrates. A large proportion of liquid cleaners is water which you can easily add yourself.
  • Buy in bulk. One large package uses less energy and materials to make than many smaller ones.
  • Avoid products with secondary packaging. The individually wrapped prunes are an example of this.
  • Eat less meat and buy meat (ideally organic) from a butcher who won’t package it in polystyrene trays.
  • Avoid any product that seems to have unnecessary or excessive packaging. If you and others don’t buy it, producers won’t make it. Vote with your wallet.