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What top brands still aren’t using 100% recyclable packaging?

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Published date: 10 May 2021

As the popularity of online shopping continues to skyrocket, how many UK retail brands are doing their best to reduce waste through recycled packaging? 

Shopping online has endless benefits and has been nothing but necessary over the last year, but the tidal wave of packages and packaging that ends up in landfills, incinerators and the environment is a huge downside.

Online shopping accounted for 20% of all retail sales in the UK in January last year, but as millions turned to it for everything from the most basic items to luxury purchases, the number has almost doubled in 2021 to 36%. As a result, packaging waste has skyrocketed. Nearly half of all plastic waste generated in the UK each year is from packaging, and while several industries are taking steps to reduce it, there’s still a long way to go. To find out more, we investigated which brands have stepped up their game with recyclable packaging. 

UK retailers with the most recyclable packaging 

Consumer demand for sustainable packaging options is driving momentum, but so far no mainstream retail brands have fully stepped up to the plate, and fully recyclable packaging doesn’t appear to be on the cards any time soon. 

While cost and logistics are often cited as main barriers to this, lack of education and long decision making processes also stand in the way, espcially in large businesses and chains.   

Retailers making gains include John Lewis, Primark and JD Sports, with less than 2% of their packaging unable to be recycled. Compared to Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, where +25% of the packaging can’t be recycled, this is a huge accomplishment. 

UK retailers with the most unrecyclable packaging bar chart

On a global scale, the cumulative packaging waste of big brands adds up to devastating results. Research has found the 10 worst companies for packaging waste (including Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Nestle) contribute over 7.8 million metric tonnes of unrecyclable packaging waste per year.


As a result of the e-commerce boom, Amazon now produces enough online shopping packaging waste to circle the Earth 667 times

The past year of lockdown has increased packaging use. With consumers only able to buy products online, e-commerce companies have seen a huge surge in sales. As only 80% of cardboard packaging is recycled, this has led to a huge amount of cardboard packaging waste.

Unfortunately, not all these companies offer eco-friendly plastic either, including market leader Amazon. The plastic film used in Amazon plastic pillows, mailers, bubble wrap and more is not accepted by most plastic packaging recycling programs. Over 2020, Amazon’s revenue grew a third. Based on previous reports of their plastic waste, this means Amazon is now producing enough online shopping packaging waste to circle the Earth roughly 667 times — nearly 30 million pounds (13,608 metric tonnes) of unrecycled plastic waste. 


Companies trailblazing the UK’s 100% recyclable packaging movement

There are plenty of companies proving 100% recyclable packaging is possible — here are just a few that are pioneering the waste recycling movement:

Companies trailblazing the UK’s 100% recyclable packaging movement


‘One of the key pillars of Challenge Packaging’s mission statement is to achieve 100% sustainability by 2025. Switching to using water-based inks, eco-friendly tape and 100% recyclable boxes are ways we will make our goal of 100% sustainable packaging attainable. As it stands, more than 95% of our packaging is recyclable and we’re on track to get this to 100% by the 2025 deadline. In doing so, we hope to eliminate any negative impact we might have upon the environment and we hope to set an example that packaging can be done in an ethical, eco-friendly way.’
- Tom Wood, General Manager, Challenge Packaging 

Challenge Packaging is one of the UK’s most trusted packaging suppliers, committed to sustainability, innovation and a simple and seamless customer experience. Shop our range of boxes, protective packaging, mailing bags and other solutions today.


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