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 an increasing 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!
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. Wherever possible, we will always encourage re-use and no-use; all packaging has an environmental cost.
What do we use?
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 for £1.85 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 – you can use a paper bag or one of our re-usable cloth bags if you prefer, but we’re happiest to receive it loose at the tills.
- For when you do want to bag things, we 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).
- After a lot of research and advice from our friends at Riverford Organics we are also trialling a home compostable bag which we’ll use to pre-bag a few items. Whilst the bags look, feel and act like plastic, they are 100% compostable and break down into the soil in as little as 7-12 weeks under composting conditions, leaving no harmful traces or residues. They use the same supply chains, machinery and infrastructure as regular plastic, which means they have the same low carbon emissions as plastic production and do not divert land use away from food production.
- 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 the compostable version above. 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.
- We wrap our bread and sweet treats in home-compostable bags.
In the chillers
- Milk bottle deposit scheme for deliciously-creamy, barista-friendly Oato milk, made in Lancashire from UK-grown oats. Returning the glass bottle saves you pennies, and it can be re-used up to 40 times!
- Kombucha bottle return scheme to be re-filled by the good folks at Sodada in the Peak District. Plus a few pence back there too!
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 LDPE plastic bags until we find something a home-compostable option that’s sturdy enough for our needs. Re-use these bags for veg, unpacked or as sandwich bags. We also have a collection station for customers to re-use them in the veg area!
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 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. Although the situation is improving, “eco-disposables” can require higher amounts of energy to produce, and reducing plastic doesn’t necessarily address the climate crisis; in fact in some instances it can make it worse.
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.
- Deli flapjack wrappers & bread 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, 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 .