Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Nestlé: An 'eggsample' of redesigning Easter packaging

It's that time of year when traditionally the confectionery industry comes under fire.

"Too much plastic," we cry, as we open those boxes that protect the chocolate egg and its other sweet contents, and despite the reduction of packaging in recent years, an article in last week's Guardian, revealed that there are manufacturers, particularly those associated with the luxury end of the market, that are still not doing enough to rid us of the plastic crud that comes with our chocolate egg,

So it was interesting when Nestlé's press team got in touch last week, to see if I fancied checking out their latest packaging. If that saves me the embarrassment of poking about with my magnifying glass amongst the supermarket aisles, how could I decline such an offer.

I've been aware of Nestlé's reduction efforts for the last four years, since my interest in waste began.  However, the company has been redeveloping its packaging since 2006, with the aim of making its entire Easter egg packaging 100% recyclable. During this time, the company has made great inroads into the 3,000 tonnes of Easter packaging waste.  The branded mug range represents the final set of products to be tackled, helping Nestlé achieve its goal and saving 48 tonnes of plastic in the process.

For a consumer with a geeky interest in waste reduction, Nestlé's work in this area has been a really positive step, especially when it comes to plastic, because even now, many local authorities across the UK still do not collect this material for recycling.  By switching to alternative 100% recyclable materials, Nestlé states that it will save 726 tonnes of plastic waste each Easter.

So what has Nestlé done exactly? The key shift has been redesigning its products so that it doesn't have to rely on plastic to protect the egg. Designing out waste at source is one of the first goals of moving to a Zero Waste future. An example can be seen here, where FSC certified card is now used to secure the mug and confectionary inside the box.

However, the branded mug range still incorporates some plastic in its packaging, but this is compostable film, which is used for the windows.

Nestlé's latest announcement prompted me to have a browse along the supermarket aisles to see what other manufacturers are up to and it was great to see that competitor Cadbury's has also gone down the route of replacing plastic packaging with basket-shaped card.  But as last week's Guardian article claimed, there is still a lot of plastic rubbish still being distributed around the country, contributing to 3,000 tonnes that ends up in landfill.

Of course, despite the positive news from Nestlé, and the other fact that the company has incorporated a 30% reduction in packaging overall, that compostable window still niggles me. Such is the risk of sending such packaging to a Zero Waste geek.

I will happily separate that fillm and see how it breaks down under the auspices of the composter in my back garden, but what concerns me is how many other consumers will follow suit?  Will they notice and if so, will they be bothered? And of course not everyone has a home composter, for which this material is intended.

At least Nestlé includes clear instructions on what to do with the materials, so the lesson to us all is to keep a close eye on labelling, no matter what we buy.

If that is the lesson for us, the consumer, perhaps the lesson for Nestlé then, is to redesign its packaging even further to remove the need for compostable plastic, possibly shrinking the size of the windows in any product that currently needs such protection.

But I know I'm picking at bones here. Nestlé has taken a leading role within the industry by lightweighting its packaging and switching to recyclable materials and it's time that other manufacturers should follow suit.  And while they're at it, perhaps the industry can also come up with an alternative solution for that ubiquitous plastic film which either litters landfill or is poor carolific fodder for EfW.

Ouch, I think this waste-geek needs some chocolate.  

It's just a shame it's all gone.

Well that is the risk that comes with opening up the Munchies Easter egg box to assess the packaging.

And with all this talk of chocolate, I'm now regretting donating the accompanying Kit Kat and Yorkie boxes to our school's Easter Egg Bingo.


Danda said...

Great to see these news from that company! Unfortunately the same doesn't happen here in Italy still now. I saw plenty of Easter eggs wrapped in unrecyclable coloured plastics, the fair-trade ones too, even if I wrote them years ago about this problem!
Is it so hard to understand that we need less packaging? I can't believe!
Anyway I hope that you had a very happy Easter!


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Karin said...

Credit where credit is due, I suppose, Karen. It's always good when any company reduces its packaging and or makes more of it recyclable. However, I'm not sure Nestle have changed their ethics.

Green and Black's Fairtrade and organic chocolate eggs were also packaged in minimum packaging: a silver foil wrapped egg in a cardboard box.

For me the choice was obvious.

Maisie said...

The Cadbury eggs I got the boys this year were just foil and cardboard, and it stated on the packaging was completely recyclable.

Anonymous said...


With the Nestle Box, you could put the whole box through a home shredder and compost it all.



Almost Mrs Average said...

Thank you all for your comments. It's always interesting when large multi-nationals make such changes.

Of course reducing waste at this level will always bring long-term cost efficiencies for businesses involved and naturally makes great PR for those who lead.

Although voluntary now, I believe that there will be a time when such developments will be legally enforced or so common an event that they won't make the news.

Green & Blacks has done some great work too and is part of the Kraft empire, which is looking at reducing waste across its range of brands and has invested in testing new technology trials in conjunction with a Cambridge-based company for recycling laminated film.

Shame I didn't think about composting the whole box. Although I will be looking to see if I can find that plastic window in months\years to come.:)

Danda, sadly I think it might be some time until there is a culture change in many of the continental countries. I think that's mainly due to the tradition of pretty embellishments that make Easter eggs look far more beautifully appealing than the British culture of branded eggs in a box. Also, much of the change that's taken place is being led by a national organisation that is tackling waste in every sector and works closely with the various national associations that represent those sectors. Consequently there is a great influence to drive such change.

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