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Sainsbury's Mushroom Packaging
Sainsbury's

Supermarkets Switching To Paper-Based Packaging

Have you noticed that more of your weekly grocery items are now in paper-based packaging?

In September 2023, Sainsbury’s announced that all of its own-brand toilet and kitchen roll would switch from plastic to paper packaging, cutting 55 million pieces (485 tonnes) of plastic each year. In January 2024, it announced that it would save an additional 775 tonnes of plastic by switching from plastic to cardboard punnets for its mushrooms.[1, 2]

Similarly, Upfield, who manufactures, among other things, plant-based butters and spreads for brands such as Flora, is in the process of rolling out a plastic-free, oil-resistant paper tub that is recyclable in local wastepaper streams. By 2030, it hopes that up to two billion plastic tubs will have been replaced with its plastic-free version.[3]

While paper may not be the packaging solution for all products on supermarket shelves, the move to paper means consumers are better able to cut down on single-use plastic and recycle more at home.

Does Wondering What Can And Can’t Be Recycled Leave You Scratching Your Head?

Paper-based packaging is the most recycled of all packaging materials in Europe with a recycling rate of 82%, followed by glass (76%), metal (76%), and plastic (38%).[4]

However, recycling rates in the UK are slipping in the wrong direction. Research by YouGov, revealed that part of the challenge for the UK is confusion over what is recyclable and which bins we should use. Gen Z in particular, although largely considered environmentally conscious, is less confident than older generations when it comes to recycling packaging, with 63% saying that recycling labels on packaging are hard to understand.[5]

The switch to paper-based packaging should help to alleviate the daily head scratching over whether an item of packaging is recyclable or not – if it’s made from paper or card and isn’t covered in food waste, it’s recyclable! But, of course, more needs to be done to ensure that it’s easy to understand the recyclability of all packaging materials.

Making At-Home Recycling Easier

Pressure is on the UK government to simplify and standardise the kerbside recycling process across the nation. In October 2023, it announced reforms to household and business bin collections, which it hopes will improve recycling rates.[6] However, businesses in the paper and packaging industry believe the proposed changes don’t go far enough as there isn’t currently a requirement for paper and board to be kept separate, which is important for recycling.

While business and the government thrash out the details, there is plenty we can be doing at home to ensure full advantage is taken of the opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of our food packaging.

Some local councils already require paper and cardboard are kept separate from other recyclable materials, which is great; however, to make sure your wastepaper and card can enter the recycling stream, you might find the following guidance useful.

How To Make Sure Your Paper-Based Food Packaging Can Be Recycled

  • Keep your recycling loose in the recycling bin – don’t ties in bundles or put it in plastic/bin bags of any kind
  • Before putting paper and card in the recycling bin, remove any sticky tape, labels, staples and any plastic packaging
  • Flatten boxes
  • Don’t put card with food on it e.g. pizza boxes, into the recycling bin
  • Don’t add any general waste to your recycling bin as it makes recycling impossible.

Curious About What Happens To Your Recycled Paper And Board?

Most recycled paper and board is used to make board for packaging. It is also used to make boxes for dry foods such as cereal or pasta, tissue products like toilet paper and paper towels, as well as newspapers.

Paper and card can’t be recycled indefinitely. During the collection and processing of recycled paper products, where inks, glues and coatings are separated from the fibre, an amount of this fibre is lost. Therefore the paper industry always needs a supply of fresh fibre from sustainably managed forests to keep the renewable cycle going. So try not to feel too guilty if you buy something made from non-recycled paper; it’s essential to keeping the paper recycling stream flowing.

Have you noticed switches from plastic to paper packaging on your supermarket shelves? Share your paper and card packaging discoveries with us @lovepaperuk

The Paper Fact File

Paper is one of the most sustainable and recycled materials in the world!

Visit the Paper Fact File to discover the facts about paper’s sustainable attributes. Some might surprise you!