New study highlights ‘hidden’ pack costs

SCOTTISH consumers collectively spend £600 million on over 300,000 tonnes of single-use packaging annually, according to research by Zero Waste Scotland. 

 The organisation said that the £600 million figure is hidden within the overall price of products, and that on top of this around £40 million a year is used to cover the cost of local authorities collecting discarded single-use packaging.

 Michael Lenaghan, Zero Waste Scotland’s environmental policy advisor, said, “It’s easy to think of packaging as part of the product we want, rather than a product in its own right. In truth, when we buy 500ml of shampoo, we’re also buying a 500ml shampoo bottle, but the cost of that bottle is not evident.

“Packaging is not free. Add it all up, and the average consumer spends a lot on single-use packaging. And all this single-use packaging doesn’t just come with a cost for consumers, it also brings a significant cost to the environment. To be clear, the point of this is not to say that packaging is inherently bad, but that it is inherently a product, and like any other product, consumers can make more informed decisions about whether the service provided is worth the cost, if that cost is made clear upfront.”

Iain Gulland, Zero Waste Scotland chief executive, added, “Packaging is often seen as essential to protect products and, like other techniques from pasteurising to freezing, it can also prolong the shelf-life of food. However, too many products come in packaging which is unnecessary and single-use, generating significant emissions and waste. We advocate avoiding any packaging which is not needed.”

A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer commented, “We believe plastic plays an important role in preserving food and preventing waste, but we know there are challenges with the use of plastics and we’re taking clear action to reduce, reuse and recycle.

“We’ve already removed 1,000 tonnes of plastic packaging, which includes replacing the plastic cutlery in our stores with wooden alternatives and plastic straws for paper versions. 

“To help our customers play their part, we’ve phased out 1,700 tonnes of difficult to recycle black plastic packaging and have started rolling out our plastic take back scheme, in which we’ll turn collected plastic from our customers into playground equipment.”