Easy ways to reduce your packaging footprint

6 minute read

We look at simple ways to reduce your plastic packaging ‘footprint’ – things you can do easily, each week, that make a small (but important!) difference.

Every day, we see news about climate change, pollution and species extinction. How can we stop worrying about the future and start making it better? In the UK, research in 2019 by YouGov found that eight in 10 consumers are trying to reduce their plastic waste, and 46 per cent of people feel guilty about the amount of plastic they use.

People wanting to reduce the plastic packaging in their shopping focused first on the fresh fruit and vegetable aisle (81 per cent), followed by household and cleaning products (36 per cent), homeware (32 per cent), health, oral and hair items (27 per cent) and cosmetics (18 per cent).

In March this year, research for retailer M&S found that more than three-quarters of consumers are trying to reduce their use of packaging. M&S is set to expand its packaging-free product trial to a second store in Manchester.

So far, so good. But as more of us eat lunch ‘on the go’, we discard even more single-use plastic – 11 billion items each year in the UK alone, according to the Guardian.

A survey of 65,000 people in 24 countries in 2019 found that almost half of consumers worldwide think manufacturers as being primarily responsible for tackling plastic waste. You might not be surprised to learn that 88 per cent of consumers said they could not name a single manufacturer doing a good job of reducing plastic waste, and eight in 10 can’t name a retailer.

So what can we each do to reduce our personal plastic packaging footprint?

Reducing your packaging footprint – reduce, reuse, recycle

You may have heard of the ‘waste hierarchy’, which shows us that the first priority is to use less – reduce! Put simply, that means finding ways to avoid the plastic in the first place. You might decide to swap to another brand with less packaging, to buy from a different shop that offers zero-packaging options – or just not to buy the product at all.

The next priority is to try to reuse things, instead of throwing them away. You’re probably thinking that’s tricky for packaging, as so much of it is designed for a single-use only. Now though, there are ways around that. We can take our own container – whether that’s a coffee cup, water bottle or bag-for-life. New shops are popping up locally, offering refills and bulk-buy options (I’ve included a list of local-ish ones at the end). Even M&S and Waitrose are trialling this in a couple of UK stores.

Finally, if we can’t reduce or reuse, we need to recycle. This is important, as it means the materials stay ‘in the loop’ instead of going to landfill, incineration, or – worse – ending up in our fields, on beaches and in rivers and oceans. Even better, the plastic can be recycled into new plastic, so we avoid the need for more petrochemicals – the oil stays ‘in the ground’. This means less energy, less GreenHouse Gase emissions, less waste and pollution.

Let’s dig into some every-day, local options for reducing, reusing and recycling.

The Guardian recently published some tips for ‘shrinking your plastic footprint’ – here are a few of them, with some extras from me:

Food and drink ‘on the go’

  • Carry a reusable bottle, cup, fork and spoon. Some coffee shops give discounts if you bring your own cup, and the Refill app shows you where you can top up your water bottle for free. Make sure you use all these items as many times as possible so they are worth the extra resources, energy and greenhouse gases used to make them.
  • When possible, eat in the restaurant or café instead of getting a take-out – and let them know you won’t need takeaway packaging (or a straw!)


  • Opt for products with less packaging. Say ‘no’ to fruit in trays and wrappers, and teabags that come in individual (plastic) wrappers. Surprisingly, even tea-bags contain plastic – many of the leading brands use plastic to ‘glue’ the teabag. Try buying tea in bulk and buy a tea strainer or a tea-pot with an infusing basket (the bulk tea will save you money too!)
  • Shop from bulk ‘zero-packaging’ stores, use your own containers and avoid using the plastic veg bags. One of our group has been making simple reusable and washable veg bags from old sheets and duvet covers. Alternatively, you can just be more careful with how you pack your carrier bag-for-life – root veg at the bottom, salad at the top and so on.
  • Choose products in glass or tins if they are available, and then recycle them. Glass, steel and aluminium are widely recycled and the recycling process uses far less energy than making new ones.
  • For gifts, try wrapping in newspaper, or fabric offcuts, which you can save to reuse next year. Tie with reusable ribbon instead of sellotape.
  • For household cleaning products, you can get refills of Ecover and Suma clothes detergent, washing up liquid, and much more (see the list of local stores at the end).

Storing food

  • Natural fabric coated with beeswax can replace cling-film, protecting food while letting it breathe. It’s flexible and slightly adhesive so it can easily be shaped around food and bowls or folded into packages to store food at room temperature, in the fridge or the freezer. You can buy Beeswax Wraps ready-made (I found this website www.beeswaxwraps.co.uk, or search online) or make your own. They make good gifts too. Here is a link to our recipe for reusable food wraps – there’s a downloadable PDF version on the page.
  • Linen bags are great for storing bread – try the Etsy online marketplace where Lithuania seems to be a great source for value-for-money linen products.
  • Keep jars to store small portions of leftovers in, or use plates and bowls to cover up your leftovers.
  • Use baking parchment/greaseproof paper for wrapping sandwiches etc – though you can buy parchment sandwich bags for a more convenient and spill-proof option.


Those of us who are trying to get to Zero Waste (in other words, NOTHING in your black dustbin) notice the many types of plastic packaging that are not included in kerbside recycling collections. Generally, recyclable packaging has a symbol similar to this international code, and the number tells you which type of plastic it is. The symbol doesn’t mean it is necessarily recycled locally though, and many products without symbols can still be recycled (for example, magazine wrappers which can be recycled at plastic carrier bag collection points).

1 Signifies the product is made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (beverage bottles, cups, other packaging, etc)
2 Signifies high-density polyethylene (HDPE) (bottles, cups, milk jugs, etc)
3 Signifies polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (pipes, siding, flooring, etc)
4 Signifies low-density polyethylene (LDPE) (plastic bags, six-pack rings, tubing, etc)
5 Signifies polypropylene (PP) (auto parts, industrial fibres, food containers, etc)
6 Signifies polystyrene (PS) (plastic utensils, Styrofoam, cafeteria trays, etc)
7 Signifies other plastics, such as acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate and polylactic acid (PLA).

[source: Wikipedia]

Recycle Now (operated by WRAP, a UK charity) has plenty of tips. Its Recycling Locator can tell you where to recycle a specific item, what to put in your recycling at home, and how to find your nearest recycling locations. For Richmondshire, the Bins and Recycling page on the council website is also useful.

Local shops that help you shrink your plastic footprint

Here are the local shops I’m aware of that offer less/zero packaging options:

Two Dales Community Refill Station in Reeth https://www.facebook.com/Two-Dales-Community-Refill-110781736981512/ They are open on Monday and Friday mornings 0930 – 1230 (check the Facebook page!) for Suma and Bio-D household cleaning refills, loo and kitchen rolls, loofahs, bath and shower refill products and their own range of FeGoo organic and sustainably packaged personal care products.

The Wives Kitchen in Richmond – health and wholefood shop with bulk flour, oats, dried fruit, herbs and spices https://thewiveskitchen.org.uk

Cross Lanes Organic Farm Shop, on the A66 near Barnard Castle – with an Ecover refill station and plenty of local and loose fruit and veg, plus a butchery counter, cheese counter (and a fab café!) www.crosslanesorganics.co.uk

And thanks to those on our Facebook group for suggesting these shops:

And here’s a handy website to help you find zero-waste options near you: https://www.zerowastenear.me

Do you have any tips to reduce our plastic packaging footprints, or other zero-waste shopping suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

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