What does Easter mean to you? A religious celebration, the start of spring, some extra time off work? Or chocolate, chocolate, chocolate?
The ‘chocolate, chocolate, chocolate’ scenario is definately my forte. But over-packaging is a term that has become synonymous with Easter chocolate over recent years.
A typical chocolate egg in my mind includes: chocolate treats suspended in a plastic bag inside the chocolate egg, the egg wrapped in foil and then encased in a protective plastic mould that is nigh-on impossible to break into, the whole package topped off with an oversize cardboard box. Did you ever open out the box from an Easter egg in years gone past? They always had what must surely be the most complicated design in the world.
According to WRAP, over 3000 tonnes of waste is produced by Easter packaging each year, and in a poll conducted by Packaging in Perspective in 2009, 59% of British adults thought Easter eggs were over-packaged.
When I was little, Easter was measured by the number of eggs I received. More eggs meant not only more chocolate, but more people who loved me, and a better standing with my friends when I got back to school after the holidays, ‘How many did you get?’ being the typical first greeting on re-entering the playground. I had no qualms about eating them – still don’t – but my big brother would save and save his to the point where Christmas would come around and he’d still have a chocolate bunny sitting on his bookshelf. What was the packaging like on these eggs? I don’t honestly remember – what was inside was always considerably more important, after all - so when did it begin? And is it just a UK thing, or are all western countries obsessed with over-sanitising their chocolate?
There is light at the end of the tunnel
‘Smarties have got plastic-free Easter eggs!’ Bron announced on his return from a shopping expedition a few weeks ago.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked, thinking it just doesn’t sound right. Maybe he was mistaken.
‘Well, it says on their packaging, ‘Plastic Free!’’
Huh, well that’s quite surprising and interesting. ‘Ooh, I’ll have to get one,’ was my immediate thought. ‘And then I can blog about it!’
Tempting as it was, I didn’t immediately rush out to buy one, but next time I walked into Sainsbury’s there they were, a big pallet of Easter eggs ready to greet me right inside the front door, piled high above my head, and each individual egg shouting, ‘Plastic Free!’ ‘Plastic Free!’ Of course, the slight irony here is that the pallet was still wrapped in thick plastic cling-film to keep all the eggs from falling off and scattering at my feet, but I guess you can’t have everything.
The Smarties Way
So if Smarties, care of Nestle, have seen the light and realised that chocolate eggs can survive the retail experience without copious plastic support, why hasn’t it been done before? Apparently commercial egg-makers were concerned that less packaging would make eggs look smaller. Smaller eggs equals less attractive to customers; being less attractive equals fewer sales. Seems a bit silly really, especially when you see this little video detailing consumer reactions to plastic-free eggs, care of The Zero Waste Checkout.
Furthermore, in an era where, at my guess, around 95% of chocolate and confectionary on the high street shelves have switched from classic paper wrappers to plastic, the Easter egg is not the only Smarties product to be plastic-free. In 2005 they switched from a tube with a plastic lid to simple cardboard.
Thankfully, Smarties are not the only ones to be jumping on this particular bandwagon. Pictured here is my Easter gift this year from my parents, beautifully plastic free (Mummy, Daddy, maybe next year you could buy a plastic-free egg for everybody rather than just me?). And in 2009, Cadbury’s, Marks and Spencer, and Mars also took steps towards a plastic free Easter in the future; baby steps perhaps, but at least it’s a start.
P.S. Read about the Courtauld Commitment to learn more about which retailers are doing what to reduce their packaging.