Single-use packaging adding £600M to shopping bills

7 July 2019, 11:34 | Updated: 7 July 2019, 11:37

Supermarket trolley

Scots are spending £640 million a year buying - and then disposing of - single-use packaging, new research has estimated.

Work by the charity Zero Waste Scotland estimated that the total cost to consumers of single-use packaging, including plastic bottles and other containers, is £600 million.

With spending on that "hidden" in the overall cost of groceries, campaigners are calling for shoppers to be given more information on how much the packaging for everyday products adds up to.

In addition, people are also paying about £40 million a year to cover the costs incurred by councils of collecting and then disposing of these items.

Michael Lenaghan, environmental policy officer at Zero Waste Scotland, 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."

He added: "If consumers knew what they paid for packaging, research suggests they would be more inclined to seek unpackaged products, and reusable packaging options, irrespective of their sustainability concerns.

"This in turn could encourage product manufacturers and retailers to find ways of reducing and eliminating single-use packaging, resulting in cost savings for the consumer and environmental benefits for the planet."

Iain Gulland, Zero Waste Scotland chief executive, said: "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.

"Where it is needed, we must look to more circular solutions.

"Emerging plastic packaging-free aisles in supermarkets show how key players are changing their operations to meet public demand and changing environmental policies."

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: "That it's collectively costing Scots millions of pounds every year to buy and then dump single-use packaging, much of which is avoidable plastic, is a staggering waste of money as well as resources.

"Worse still is the devastating impact that much of the unnecessary plastic packaging is having on wildlife and our climate."

He added: "Scotland has led the way with its plans for a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. We now need to see the same effort given to dealing with other avoidable single-use plastic and packaging - starting with making manufacturers and retailers responsible for ensuring the easy, affordable option is also the plastic-free option."