Keen to ditch unnecessary packaging?
- Nearly all of our fruit & veg is sold loose (and always has been). No need to bag it, we’re happy to have it loose and free at the till (or grab a re-usable bag)
- We offer an increasing range of ‘unpacked’ dried goods (and we’ve made it around 10% cheaper to buy this way)
- In our bodycare range there are lots of unpackaged options, and things with returnable packaging
- Forgotten your bag? We don’t offer plastic carrier bags, but you can buy or even rent a cloth carrier!
It’s been amazing to see such a rapid move away from single use packaging in the last few years, and it’s challenged us to keep thinking creatively about where we might be able to go next. Like many of you, we wish there was a solution for doing away with all single-use packaging! It’s an environmental conundrum; there’s certainly no ‘good’ option….
Single-use plastic packaging is a symbol of the dire impact of our throwaway society on the earth. So why do we use any at Unicorn? The simple answer is that it is leakproof and robust, it conserves fresh leafy greens better than paper and it helps prevent unnecessary food waste (also a huge environmental problem). And, over the years our research has always shown, surprisingly, that plastic has a smaller climate impact (in terms of the energy and water needed to produce and transport it) than paper or card. Our aim is certainly use as little as we possibly can, but not necessarily to jump into replacing it with something that may be equally environmentally-unsound.
“100% biodegradable” packaging sounds good, but a lot of it currently can’t be composted because the infrastructure doesn’t exist. So it can end up in landfill anyway, and if it makes its way into the oceans some kinds are just as polluting as other plastics. Genuinely home-compostable packaging is different, breaking down at low temperatures. Many types are even certified to completely break down in marine environments. But it can’t generally be added to your council compost bin.
“Made from plants not plastic” packaging comes with its own issues around the diversion of land from food growing to produce materials for throwaway items. Eco-disposables often require higher amounts of energy to produce, and reducing plastic doesn’t address climate change; in some instances, it can make it worse.
It’s not easy to balance the various environmental footprints; taking into account end-of-life impact, energy used in production, land use, pollution from manufacture, etc. After exhaustive research into the life-cycles of different materials, we have a good idea of the pros & cons of various types, but we certainly haven’t found any perfect solutions. We are also constrained by the recycling collection systems in this area and by what’s available on the market. This is a fast-changing area so our choices will change as we learn more and new alternatives emerge….
So, what do we use?
On the tills
- We don’t offer any new plastic carrier bags or plastic ‘bags for life’. However you can borrow a cloth bag off us using our ‘bag deposit scheme’!
- Reused carrier bags brought in by other customers.
- Reused cardboard boxes & wooden crates generated from unpacking our deliveries.
- Cotton & jute bags from Jutexpo.
- Most produce is sold loose – you can use a paper bag or one of our re-usable cloth bags if you prefer, but we’re happy to receive it loose at the tills.
- We aim for paper bags with as high recycled-content as we can get hold of, but recent industry moves away from plastic towards paper has put pressure on supply and we sometimes struggle to source these.
- Some veg (mostly the leafy greens) are pre-bagged in plastic to conserve their freshness. Read more on storing your fruit & veg to keep it super fresh.
- During the Covid pandemic we have been bagging some veg up in home-compostable cellulose nets, so that you can grab what you need quickly.
On the deli
We (collectively!) had made amazing strides forward at the deli, with about half of our olive and salad sales being served into your own re-usable tubs by the start of 2020, and an increasing number of you bringing these for pasties and cakes as well. Our soup cup deposit scheme also had good take-up. However, the pandemic compelled us to move the counter to self-serve and to wrap products individually for the meantime. We are thinking hard about the future of the deli counter and what that means for packaging use.
For now, we are using sturdy plastic tubs that can be used again and again in the home (they are great for the freezer). Sadly we have not found any recycled options that are fit for purpose. We wrap our bread and sweet treats in home-compostable bags.
For our packed goods
- We are gradually rolling out our ‘Unpacked‘ range, so you can bring your own containers and cut out the packaging altogether.
- For bagged products, conventional plastic bags until/unless we find something that’s genuinely home-compostable and sturdy enough for our needs.
What should you do with your waste packaging?
- Several of our skincare suppliers offer money back if you return the containers – just hand them in at the till. Currently applies to Fit Pit deodorant tubs, Heavenly Organics jars and Little Green Cream skincare jars & bottles.
- Clean paper bags can go into the paper recycling, or home compost if greasy.
- Clear plastic-effect deli bags go in home compost.
- Reuse deli tubs as much as you can. Each re-use considerably reduces its environmental impact! Once done with, these tubs go in the bin, sadly.
- For now, plastic bags should be re-used for sandwiches etc. as many times as possible, then go in the bin.
And remember, you can fill up your water bottles at any time of day or night from our (tap) water refill station in the front garden!
If you want to learn more, the government campaign Recycle Now is an up-to-date source for information about recycling and waste, including recycling symbols and the location of nearby disposal points. For national waste management strategies, see relevant policy documents for England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland .