Peppers in plastic, passion fruit in a sweat - how much of this packaging do we need?

A A A

It was just a medium-sized shopping-bag's worth of groceries - yet like a conjurer's hat, it created a huge mound of packaging.

A simple exercise by The Independent at the weekend illustrated a profound truth: that whatever the promises of supermarkets to change their ways, packaging, and over-packaging, are still an absolutely essential part of the deal they offer us.

We put together a bag of 14 household items and although they came from seven stores rather than one - to show how universal the phenomenon is - they made up a typical shopping bag. There were basic vegetables, fruit, breakfast cereal and cakes, washing powder, and one item for household odd jobs. Plus a small Valentine's gift - getting in early, as it were. Total cost: £23.44.

The first thing to say about the Indy's bag is that a generation ago, almost all of the items in it would have been sold loose. Even those which at one time had to be wrapped in some way, would have been wrapped less - once rather than twice, say. But now they all came swathed in clingfilm, plastic, paper and cardboard, to the extent that when it was eventually all discarded, it made a substantially bigger pile than the bare groceries themselves.

The second point to be made is that some packaging, as we shall see, was so unnecessary as to verge on the farcical.

But don't just take our word for it. To get an outside opinion we went to the Women's Institute, that venerable village-hall organisation which in recent years has reinvented itself as a doughty consumer champion. The WI has a bee in its bonnet about unnecessary packaging, and last summer held a day of action to highlight the problem. Members from branches all over England and Wales saved their packaging for a week then took it back to the checkout, saying "here - you take it".

Prominent in that campaign was Isla Arendell, a member of the WI public affairs committee. Isla, a social worker from Chepstow who is married with two children, took her own pile of plastic, cardboard and clear wrapping back to the Chepstow branch of Tesco, and persuaded them to take it off her hands. So we asked her and Katie Austin from the WI head office to run the rule over our own pile of over-swaddled groceries.

They shared our view that some of the packaging being foisted on the shopper was simply ridiculous. At the top of the list was the shrink-wrapped swede. This item, 35p from Morrisons supermarket in Camden, north London, was unchallenged in its nonsensical supremacy.

Ms Arendell was particularly scathing about two sweetcorn cobs, bought from a Tesco branch in Fulham. "This looks absolutely dreadful," she said. "Look how they're sweating in the bag. They don't fit properly and they're rolling around. If they had been picked with their leaves on, they would have been far fresher, and effectively protected naturally."

General groceries were just as heavily overwrapped. Ms Arendell looked at a pack of 12 iced fairy cakes (£1.08 from Asda), which were encased in cake wrappers, then in a plastic tray, then shrouded in coloured wrapping. "This a is a great example of what we object to. The packaging here is for a marketing campaign that's appealing to children. The cakes are wrapped three times - cases, tray, clear wrapping - yet they're sturdy enough and appealing enough just to be in their cases."

Her colleague Ms Austin said: "We warmly welcome the Independent campaign, because as you can see clearly from these items, there is simply far, far too much packaging. It's not only making a big contribution to waste, it's often making you buy far more than you want to, and severely limiting your choice."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape