Reduce product packaging

Most of the goods we buy need to be protected by packaging. But how much is too much?
Learn more
  • Updated:17 Oct 2007


Small ipod in lots of boxes and packaging

In brief

  • The majority of Australians don’t think enough is being done to get rid of unnecessary packaging.
  • Voluntary packaging guidelines aren’t always adhered to, and there’s even been a trend towards more resource-intensive and hard-to-recycle packaging in recent years.

From gourmet chocolates to beauty products, an increasing number of consumer goods are buried in layers of packaging these days.

Consumers have contacted CHOICE to ask why so many products are overpackaged, and many sent in examples.

One reader described the shock she felt when a new laser printer arrived at her office and the amount of cardboard and foam inserts stacked up to be twice her own height. “I was confronted by the tower of terror," she said. “The packaging in this instance could’ve housed a small family.”

Despite recognising that some goods need to be protected during transportation, consumers are distressed by the level of potential waste, which ultimately increases our footprint on the planet. In this report we take a look at the environmental impact of packaging, and what's being done to try and reduce it.

Please note: this information was current as of October 2007 but is still a useful guide today.

Supermarket strategies

To try to reduce waste — or at least to look as though they are — supermarket chains here and overseas have introduced strategies to help cut down on plastic bags.

For example, UK retail giant Tesco offers ‘green points‘, like frequent flyer points, to encourage shoppers to reuse plastic bags. In Ireland, there’s a 0.15 Euro tax on every plastic bag you take.

Changes in Australian supermarkets have been less progressive, but steps are being taken towards reducing packaging waste. Both Woolworths and Coles provide plastic bag recycling bins in stores and have introduced cloth bags as an alternative.

Woolworths also claims its staff won’t automatically offer plastic bags at checkout for purchases of three items or less.

Coles has started a trial of compostable packaging in a bid to remove hard-to-recycle plastic films and trays used for fruit and vegetables. Other green initiatives the company is trialling include reviewing own-brand products to identify opportunities to cut down on packaging, and using returnable plastic crates to transport fruit and vegetable produce.

Be a leader of the un-pack

If you’re tired of sitting back waiting for change, you can take some easy steps to cut back on packaging waste:

  • Use refillable containers when buying things like shampoo in markets or health stores.
  • Reuse plastic bags as bin liners.

Keep glass jars and bottles for storing sauces and jam, recycle them, or buy some glass paint and decorate them as gifts. 

Recycling tips

It’s also important to know what you can recycle. As a general rule, you can recycle paper and cardboard, steel cans, and glass that’s clear, green or amber in colour.

  • Give containers a quick rinse if they’ve got traces of food in them. Paper or card with food stains on it (such as pizza boxes) can’t usually be recycled.
  • For plastic packaging, look out for items that are marked ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’, usually on the bottom. These can be recycled, while items marked with ‘4’ and ‘5’ may not be.
  • What can be collected varies between areas, so check with your local council to avoid any risk of contaminating the recycling system.


Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.