Crunch time for Walkers over non-recyclable crisp packets

The UK's biggest crisp brand, Walkers, will come under pressure this week to explain why it is helping to fuel the plastic waste littering the streets and seas by producing more than 7,000 non-recyclable crisp packets every minute.

A new analysis carried out by campaign organisation 38 Degrees has found that Walkers is set to produce an additional 28 billion plastic crisp packets by 2025 – the date by which the company has pledged to make its crisp packets 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.

Crisps and “crisp-style snacks” are popular staples in British households, regularly eaten by 90% of adults, according to a recent Mintel report. UK consumers munch their way through 6bn packets of crisps a year.

But, although the inside of conventional crisp packets are shiny and look like foil, they are in fact a metallised plastic film. The government-funded body Recycle Now – part of its waste advisory body Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) – advises that no packets are currently recyclable and that they should be put in the rubbish rather than the recycling bin.

Beach-cleaning volunteers in Cornwall have retrieved old Walkers packets believed to date from the 1980s and 1990s.

On Tuesday, a 38 Degrees petition calling on Walkers and other manufacturers to stop using plastic packaging in its crisp packets will be handed into the food and drink giant PepsiCo, Walkers’ parent company. Geraint Ashcroft of Cardiff, who started the petition, which now has 270,000 signatures, is meeting senior executives from the firm.

Plastic waste has become a charged issue, with TV programmes such as Blue Planet II exposing its impact on the oceans and regular warnings being made over the dangers of a global plastic binge.

Walkers produce 11 million crisp packets a day at its Leicester factory – one of the world’s largest crisp production plants. That means 7,000 non-recyclable crisp packets are being produced every minute and more than 4bn a year, 38 Degrees said.

“This research proves that big companies like Walkers are not taking responsibility for the astounding amount of environmentally damaging plastic waste they are making,” said Lorna Greenwood, campaign manager at 38 Degrees. “There’s huge public concern about the amount of plastic being produced and that means it’s crunch time for Walkers to decide if they will listen to their customers.”

A spokesperson for PepsiCo said: “We are committed to achieving 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging by 2025. We have a number of initiatives in place to reduce the amount of packaging we use and at the same time, we’re examining the use of different packaging materials, both plant and paper-based. We are also investing in research and development to explore options to improve the recyclability of our packs. We don’t have all the answers yet, which is why we’re collaborating with leaders in this area to share the latest science and practical solutions.”

The company is working with a biotechnology leader, Danimer Scientific, on the development of biodegradable packaging. In the UK it is supporting anti-litter programmes including Leeds By Example, an initiative developed by Hubbub and Ecosurety, which will pilot initiatives to improve recycling rates outside the home.

But breakthroughs have already been made. Last year Marks & Spencer slashed the amount of packaging used for its crisps and popcorn by reducing the pocket of air at the top of the bag, in a move which led to 20% less plastic after a switch to a thinner, but strong, type of film.

Rebecca Smithers

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network


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