Is Cheaper Pre-packed Food Creating More Plastic Waste?

Programmes like Blue Planet have massively raised awareness of the damage that plastic is causing to our environment, and the Summer campaign for a Plastic Free July saw many people make an effort to lessen their plastic usage.

If you’ve read any of my other blogs you will know that I’m a keen recycler and upcycler and I like to try to do my bit. I know that I still have room to improve though. I’m very conscious of how much plastic I buy through cost implications, and how much I needlessly buy through excess packaging from the manufacturers.

Is cheaper pre-packed food making us waste more plastic?

Shops are starting to make moves in the right direction but there is still a long, long way to go! Coffee shops have made it cheaper to take your own reusable mug and Waitrose are banning disposable cups altogether this Autumn. Morrisons now allow you to take your own containers for fresh foods bought from their butcher and fishmonger counters and even give you bonus More points for doing so.

These are all positive moves. All supermarkets now charge for carrier bags but is it enough? Most people, especially those who haven’t got into the habit of taking their own bags, don’t worry about spending 10p a bag. What if the shops only had woven bags available that cost £1 or £2 – would that then make people think more about shopping bag habits?

I have become more aware of packaging recently now that we are being taught about where our plastic waste is really going. I always used to buy my fruit and veg loose and would put them on the conveyor belt, only for the cashier to put them in a plastic bag to weigh them! I then started to buy it pre-packed as it also became much cheaper. That now leaves me feeling very uncomfortable and I try to buy as much loose food as I can taking my own bags for it to be weighed in.

But as you start to shop mindfully you realise how little loose fresh produce there actually is in the supermarkets now and just how much more expensive it is to shop loose. This really needs to change. No matter how much people want to do their bit, most of us are governed by our purse strings.

It got me thinking about how much other pre-packed food is cheaper and how much unnecessary plastic waste there is. On one given week I found all my veg, snacks and tinned products were all cheaper when pre-packed with additional plastic. I couldn’t even buy cucumbers, broccoli, celery or lettuce unwrapped.

Beans 75p per tin or only 50p when pre-wrapped (£3 for 6)
Chocolate bars 60p each or only 25p when pre-wrapped (£1 for 4)
Crisps 55p bag or only 12.5p when pre-wrapped (£1 for 6)
Peppers 65p each or 43p when pre-wrapped (£1.29 for 3)
Prepacked onions 55p per kg loose 79p
Carrots 44p kg pre-packed 60p kg loose

My guess is pre-packed foods are cheaper because they can go through the tills quicker, but surely shops have the same responsibilities as the rest of us for cutting plastic pollution?

Why can’t the shops and manufacturers get together to be able to offer the same discounts if it’s bought loose? Technology would allow 6 individual tins of beans, or 4 bars of chocolate to receive a multi-buy discount rather than wrapping them together in plastic only for the consumer to have to take it all off when they get home.

zero waste shop jars selling loose food
Photo thanks to Fetchem from the Cupboard – zero waste shop

I understand that there are now zero waste shops starting to open up and down the country. I would love to see one open in our town. I remember we had one about 25 years ago, but then we had butchers and bakers and greengrocers back then too. It seems some aspects of life may be about to go full circle again. I do hope so.

I’ve concentrated here on the food shopping aspect of plastic waste, but it really is the tip of the iceberg and there is so much we can all do to help out our planet. There are some fantastic groups on social media where you can get lots of ideas about how you can really make a difference to cut down your plastic consumption and even start on a journey towards zero waste.

If you haven’t seen my recent blog about ecobricks, please give that a read too. Even if you don’t want to donate or build with the bricks, I would urge you to make just one as it really makes you realise just how much plastic you use in the home every day.  You can then take steps to cut down your plastic consumption.

Did you take part in Plastic Free July and continue with the pledge?
Have you made an ecobrick?
Or do you have any ideas of how can we get the message of “Less Plastic Please!” across?
I’d love to hear what you are doing to reduce your plastic usage.

list of plastic free tips on photo of beach
12 simple ways to use less plastic

You might also like to check out some other blogs I’ve written about waste:

How to Reuse, Redistribute and Recycle your Rubbish
* How to Reduce Plastic Waste in Hotels, Cafes & Bars
Ecobricks – More Ways to Reuse and Cut Down on Plastic

Or read about other projects in Arts, Crafts, Upcycling and Eco Issues.

6 thoughts on “Is Cheaper Pre-packed Food Creating More Plastic Waste?

  1. We were talking recently about the environmental impact of the distance that food travels too, and how buying local produce would give a much better carbon footprint. It’s odd that you can’t have your food weighed without being in a bag as I buy as much without plastic bags as I can and cashiers don’t put it in a bag for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes and I saw a debate about how if everything came in glass bottles rather than plastic the impact of the transport would be just as bad if not worse for the environment.

      As for the weighing there are very few loose fruit and veg available in any of our local supermarkets but good to see more mesh and fabric bags available for those who can buy loose.


  2. Totally agree…I buy lots of salad and veg as we have it daily and cannot believe the amount of plastic I put in my recycling bin every day.

    I used to be able to buy 1 loose courgette with no packaging, but now have to buy 3 that are packaged….as well as the plastic waste, theres also food waste at times , as I don’t often need 3 !!


    • At least it is all recycled in London. I couldn’t believe it when my son lived there. We can only recycle paper, plastic bottles and tins but I do give away a lot of other waste items. Thanks for commenting.


  3. I think that shops should allow refilling of products like shampoos and shower gels etc. Didn’t the Body Shop do this in the past if you brought in an old container? Mac cosmetics give you free stuff if you take in old containers like mascara wands too. I think a blog about all the green businesses would make the big boys sit up if customers voted with their feet! Keep up the good work


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