Think about every time you go to open a packet of crisps, only to find two thirds of the bag full of air. It’s a deflating feeling. At last, one the largest UK supermarkets Marks and Spencer (M&S) is looking to put a stop to this by slashing plastic use in food packaging to cut waste. This change will lead to 75 tonnes of packaging being saved each year – the equivalent to a reduction in carbon emissions from 152 lorries. M&S will be targeting 140 of their branded products including crisps and popcorn into smaller redesigned packets. They will contain the same amount of food just with less air. This is part of the retailer’s ‘Project Thin Air’ programme with the overall objective to convert M&S into a zero-waste business.
"The retail giant’s most popular popcorn range will reduce its size by 37 percent, whilst their best-selling crisps will use 20 percent less plastic due to a new, thinner plastic film."
So why all the air?
Allegedly, each packet contains nitrogen to preserve the freshness, prevent combustion, provide a longer shelf life and protect the food during transportation. Crisp manufacturer Walkers said that the air is necessary to protect the goods and accommodates for changes in atmospheric pressure. However, one researcher discovered a different set of findings - “I assumed the air would stop them breaking, but the reverse happened. The ones with the most air also have the most breakage. I found when I vacuum-sealed them this was the most efficient way to transport and handle them without breaking them.”
In fact, the feature artist Henry Hargreaves discovered that the worst crisp offenders contained 87 percent of air – worse than we may have predicted.
“We’ve been working on this project for over a year and are really pleased with the results,” said M&S ( @marksandspencer ) packaging expert Laura Fernandez. “We very much see this as the start of a much bigger piece of work and hope to bring equally impressive savings to other areas of the business too.”
The retail giant’s most popular popcorn range will reduce its size by 37 percent, whilst their best-selling crisps will use 20 percent less plastic due to a new, thinner plastic film.
In M&S’ Plan A ethical and sustainability programme, it outlines how all packaging will become ‘widely recyclable’ by 2022 and food waste will be halved through its supply chain by 2025. The supermarket is planning to develop one recyclable, plastic polymer across all its plastic packaging. Furthermore, they started using laser-printed barcodes on their avocadoes. This is after extensive research had been carried out last year. They found that the citrus skin on oranges had a 'healing' property which meant that the laser mark wasn’t as clear.
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