Investigation by Which? finds swathes of major snack brands come in hard to recycle packaging with unclear labeling for consumers
Pringles crisps, Cadbury's chocolate and Babybel cheese are among the snack brands named and shamed for wasteful packaging in a new Which? investigation today, underscoring the need for the food industry to redouble efforts to make its packaging more easily recyclable for consumers.
The consumer investigations title tested 89 of the UK's best-selling, branded grocery lines, which found only a third - 34 per cent - came in packaging that was fully recyclable in household collections. Over 40 per cent of products, moreover, provided no information about whether or not its packaging was recyclable or not, with crisps, chocolate and cheese identified among the worst-offending food categories.
Natalie Hitchins, head of home products and services at Which? said both snack producers and the government had roles to play in improving packaging design and product labelling to assist consumers in recycling.
"Consumers are crying out for brands that take sustainability seriously and products that are easy to recycle, but for any real difference to be made to the environment, manufacturers need to maximise their use of recyclable and recycled materials and ensure products are correctly labelled," she said "To reduce the waste that goes to landfill, the government must make labelling mandatory, simple and clear, enabling shoppers to know exactly how to dispose of the packaging on the products they consume."
As part of the investigation, the Which? team broke down each item's packaging into its component parts, before weighing and assessing whether each piece could be easily recycled.
Crisps packaging performed the worst, with just three per cent found to be recyclable. And although Pringles' notoriously hard-to-recycle tubes have come in for criticism, their plastic lids were the only item of packaging in the category which is recycable via home waste collections, the investigation found.
Quavers crisps, meanwhile, were described as "the best of a bad bunch" as its multipacks' outer bags are recyclable at supermarket collections, although individual bags of the crisps are not. But Which? said Quavers did not make clear how recyclable its packaging was, meaning many consumers would in any case likely throw away its outer bags.
Responding to the investigation in a statement, Kellogg's - which owns Pringles among a raft of other food products bands - said it was working to improve the recyclability of its products, including Pringles tubes. It highlighted the company's targets to achieve 100 per cent recyclable, compostable or reusable packaging by the end of 2025, and its partnership with recycling firm Terracycle in the UK which allows consumers to drop off their used Pringles tubes for recycling at certain locations across the country.
However, the firm said it was important for the Pringles tubes to be sturdy "as this ensures the crisps stay in perfect condition. "So, when we look at various other alternatives, we need to make sure that they don't result in more food waste from broken and stale crisps," it said. "'Our Pringles lid is made from poly-propylene, which is a widely recycled material. As Pringles products are sold in a number of countries across Europe, the messaging on pack can be in up to six languages which can limit the amount of information we are able to include.''
TheWhich? investigation also assessed the UK's top-selling chocolate bars, which found four-finger KitKats, Cadbury Bitsa Wispa, M&Ms, Cadbury Dairy Milk bars and Cadbury Twirl Bites were all not recyclable in household recycling collections across the country. And while Galaxy Smooth bars do have 100 per cent recyclable packaging, Which? said the packaging still risked being thrown in the bin due to a lack of clear labelling.
In response, Kit Kat-maker Nestlé also said it was committed to ensuring all of its packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2025, including the elimination of non-recyclable plastics, and that in the interim it had a partnership in place with TerraCycle enabling any plastic confectionary packaging to be dropped off for recycling at 300 points across the UK. "We are working hard to get there and have put temporary solutions in place to support recycling in the interim," it said in a statement. Nestlé added that it was investing £1.6bn in shifting away from virgin plastics, as well as setting up an Institute of Packaging Sciences "to evaluate and develop various sustainable packaging materials and to collaborate with industrial partners to develop new packaging materials and solutions".
Elsewhere, in the Which? investigation, several cheese brands were singled out for more praise, including Dairylea Cheese Triangles, Seriously Spreadable Cheese and Laughing Cow triangles, all of which were found to have recyclable packaging, although all had the information missing from their labels at the time of testing, it said. The packaging of Philadelphia Soft White Cheese, manufactured by Cadbury and Dairylea brand-owner Mondelez International, was also found to be recyclable, as well as correctly labelled, the investigation found.
Baby Bel cheese, however, was singled out as one of the worst packaging offenders in the investigation, due to the difficulty in recycling the red plastic and wax coating. Gaelle Vernet, group marketing manager at Baby Bel and Laughing Cow manufacturer Bel said the firm was in the process of rolling out packaging with clearer labelling on recycling, and that it, too, was partnering with TerraCycle to recycle all elements of the packaging for Baby Bel cheese. "Bel UK is absolutely committed to achieving 100 per cent recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 and have a dedicated team of people, along with heavy investment in our infrastructure, to ensure we continue to make positive steps and achieve this goal," she said.
Which? said it had also contacted Mondelez International and food brand giant Mars - which owns M&Ms and Galaxy - for comment, but received no reply.
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