Keen to ditch unnecessary packaging?
- Nearly all of our fruit & veg is sold loose (and always has been). No need to use any bags at all, we’re happy to have it loose and free at the till (or grab a re-usable bag)
- We offer an ever-increasing range of ‘unpacked’ dried goods (and it’s around 10% cheaper to buy this way)
- There’s lots of options for unpackaged or returnable packaging in our bodycare range
- Our deli counter is all about quality convenience food – but with a price incentive to bring your own containers – none of the packaging guilt
- Forgotten your bag? We don’t offer carrier bags or plastic ‘bags for life’ at the tills, but you can rent a cloth carrier if you need to!
It’s been amazing to see such a rapid move away from single use packaging in the last couple of years, and it’s challenged us to keep thinking creatively about where we might be able to go next to keep reducing packaging use throughout the business. Like many of you, we wish there was a solution for doing away with all disposable packaging! It’s an environmental conundrum; there’s certainly no ‘good’ option….
Public consciousness has been captured by the very real problems presented by plastic pollution, particularly in the marine environment. It’s no wonder single-use plastic packaging has become a huge focus; a pressing symbol of the impact of our throwaway society. 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 (perhaps 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.
Eco Disposables (biodegradable/compostable)
“Made from plants not plastic” or “100% compostable” sounds good, but the vast majority of it (currently) can’t be composted because the infrastructure doesn’t exist. So it can end up in landfill anyway (and doesn’t degrade because the conditions are wrong), and if it makes its way into the oceans some kinds are just as polluting as other plastics! There’s also the issue of land use and soil erosion exacerbated by the diversion of land from food growing to produce materials for throwaway packaging, and the issue of water use to irrigate crops grown for packaging.
Eco-disposables also often require higher amounts of energy to produce, and as Riverford Organics founder Guy Singh-Watson pointed out recently, “anthropogenic climate change is unquestionably the biggest environmental threat our planet faces. Reducing plastic use does nothing to address climate change; in some instances, it can make it worse. We need pragmatic policies that balance all environmental impacts.”
So, what do we use?
Where we can, we are likely to be encouraging no-use and re-use above all else! But where this isn’t possible… It’s not easy to balance the various environmental impacts of different kinds of packaging; 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….
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. These bags can be recycled at most large supermarket chains. Read more on storing your fruit & veg to keep it super fresh.
- We offer home-compostable ‘not-plastic’ bags for you to use for loose salad leaves
On the deli
We can pack your deli purchases into any container you provide (thereby avoiding the charge for tubs and cups), as long as they are clean, dry and fit-for-purpose! And here’s what we provide at the counter if you aren’t able to bring your own…
- Sturdy plastic tubs. Not recyclable in Manchester but we’re prioritising re-use, based on the age-old hierarchy of ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’. The re-use rate is close to 50% at the time of writing (early 2020), and we’re doing everything we can to increase this, including making the pots a purchase in their own right.
- Paper bags (with as high a recycled-content as we can source), same as you find in the veg section.
- Compostable bags made of wood pulp for pre-bagged cookies & flapjacks
- Paper soup cups with plastic lining and lids (sadly non-recyclable), or re-useable soup cups ‘on deposit’.
- Card cake boxes with thin plastic lining.
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.
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.
- Reuse deli tubs, veg bags, and packed goods bags as much as you can. Each re-use considerably reduces its environmental impact!
- Clean paper bags can go into the paper recycling, or home compost if greasy.
- Clear plastic-effect deli bags go in home compost.
- Soup cups, cake boxes (due to lining) & spent plastic tubs go in the bin, sadly.
- For now, the plastic bags should be re-used for sandwiches etc. 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 .