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 happier to have it loose and free at the till (or grab a re-usable bag)
- We offer a range of ‘unpacked’ dried goods in dispensers
- 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!
What do we use?
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. Wherever possible, we will always encourage re-use and no-use; all packaging has an environmental cost.
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….
On the tills
- We don’t offer any new carrier bags or plastic ‘bags for life’. However you can borrow a cloth bag off us using our ‘bag deposit scheme’! Rent the bag (green ones are £1.85, pink ones are £2.85) and return it for a full refund. Each bag is made from 4 recycled plastic bottles.
- 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 and we’re happiest to receive it that way at the tills!
- For when you do want to bag things, try the re-usable cloth bags or grab one from the re-use station
- We also provide paper bags with as high recycled-content as we can get hold of (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 conventional plastic at the farm to conserve their freshness, although some growers are moving towards a compostable version (we’re still not convinced by these).
Read more on storing your fruit & veg to keep it super fresh.
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. 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 for our own salads, soups and dips. Sadly not recyclable in Manchester but we’re prioritising re-use, based on the age-old waste hierarchy of ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’. These are great for leftovers, freezing, or for filling up at our hoppers.
For our packed goods
- We offer lots of products ‘Unpacked‘, so you can bring your own containers and cut out the packaging altogether.
- For bagged products, conventional LDPE plastic bags. We strongly encourage these not to be considered single use! They are sturdy and can be washed and reused many, many times. Re-use them for veg, the unpacked range or at home as sandwich bags, or bring them to the collection station in the veg area for other customers to re-use.
Why do we still use any plastic?
Single-use plastic packaging is a symbol of the dire 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, surprisingly, that plastic still 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 we have been wary of replacing it with something that may be equally environmentally-unsound. There has been huge growth in “eco-disposables”, but their eco credentials are often pretty dubious – in some cases with a potentially higher environmental impact than regular packaging. Read this Guardian article for more.
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 and Little Green Cream skincare jars & bottles.
- Clean paper bags can go into the paper recycling, or home compost if greasy.
- 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, or brought back to Unicorn for re-use by other customers.
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 .