Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Which came first, the carton or the egg?

With various discussions and comments about overpackaged products appearing on the blog lately, I spoke to the people at INCPEN to find out what steps manufacturers are taking to resolve the problems.

INCPEN is a research organisation, which among other tasks encourages industry to minimise the environmental impact of packaged goods and to continually improve packaging.

I invited INCPEN to submit some information about their vision. The following slideshow is a guest presentation that has been sent in by them, outlining the commitment to sustainable production of the organisation's members. Members include international and UK companies that are involved in all aspects of packaged products in the retail chain, from material suppliers, manufacturers, producers, wholesalers right through to retailers. Household names such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, Boots, Sainsbury's and M&S are among its list of members.

A more detailed vision statement can be found in document form here. It is also worthwhile visiting the INCPEN site, which provides links to a variety of resources including its Code of Practice for optimising packaging and reducing waste. There are also factsheets on a range of subjects, which include Deposits on Packaging Containers, Litter, Packaging, Plastic Carrier Bags and Waste Management.

If you are interested in researching the history of packaging, there is an excellent timeline which can be found in the education section, which offers a whole host of fascinating facts. For example, did you know that potato crisps were packaged in tins in the 1920s or that aerosols first became popular in the 1940s?

For schools, the education site also introduces a range of educational resources for KeyStages 2, 3 and 4 of the National Curriculum.

INCPEN focuses on a holistic approach to sustainability and not just pushing for compostable or recyclable packaging. The research organisation also argues that some "overpackaging" is better than "underpackaging" when considering the issue of food waste.

If you have got some time to spare, it's worthwhile popping over to INCPEN to find out more. Visit

P.S. Of course I know the carton came after the egg, but isn't it great that the polystyrene cartons of the 70s have been replaced with compostable cardboard. Now that's what I call progress, even if I did enjoy the sound of breaking up the polystyrene egg boxes as a child.



Anonymous said...

What do you make of the argument that less packaging would mean more food waste?

It seems like there could be a happy medium where companies could reduce the amount of packaging while preserving food. How about drivers and handlers being more careful with the boxes?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Jonathan - the less food waste argument is a very interesting one and without any professional knowledge of this area it is difficult to argue the impact on shelf life. As sure as eggs are eggs (sorry, I couldn't resist that), I agree that some packaging is needed to protect the food from damage.

However as an average consumer, it is evident that there are certain products that really do not need the packaging, e.g. supermarkets sell avocados loose as well as in neatly packaged groups (a pack of 2 or 3, huddled together in plastic casing). What's the point of that, if not to just increase the value of the goods on offer, perhaps marketing it with a perceived higher value and then increasing the profit margin that comes with it. In my opinion, if a supermarket can sell loose produce, it doesn't really need to stock the same produce packaged.

The other measure that I am keen for supermarkets to take is to provide more paper bags for loose produce, just like you find in markets. At least these can be thrown in the compost bin, unlike the plastic ones. However on this note, I notice that Waitrose are very good at providing a paper option. Some pre-packed apples and pears are also available in compostable bags.

Another area where I would like to see real improvements is cereal packaging. Even though the box can be recycled in our area, the inner plastic bag can't, which is very frustrating.

Thanks for bringing it up. I've enjoyed the topic.

By the way, if anyone is wondering about the deleted comment, it was spam from a spammer called Jason. Other spammers, please note that this contact is not tolerated on this blog and will be deleted.

Almost Mrs Average said...

I just spotted this on Green Guys Global. Definitely worth a look:

Rosie said...

Almost Mrs Average - your site is becoming even more fasinating. I think everyone should read it, there is just so much information. Today I discovered the Little Pink Hook. I may have to write an entire post promoting it - we could all learn so many lessons from The Rubbish Diet. Great stuff!

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Rosie - Thanks so much for your lovely comments. I am really pleased that site is having such an impact and strangely, I am really enjoying the whole process.

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