Packaging and packaging waste management

How to reduce packaging waste


Manufacturers, distributors and retailers can make significant savings by reducing the packaging waste they create.

Businesses which turn over more than £2 million and handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year must register with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency or join an approved compliance scheme.

Examples of packaging waste

Packaging comes in many forms, from corrugated cartons, plastic bags and shrink-wrap to pallets and drums. It can be used to protect and contain goods purchased by a consumer or consolidate and protect goods as they pass through the supply chain.

If an item is integrated into packaging and intended to be used and thrown away with it, it is still considered as packaging. For example, a mascara brush which forms part of the container closure would be considered as packaging.

An item is not considered to be packaging if it is either:

  • part of a product and is necessary to preserve, contain or support the product during its lifespan and use, eg tea bags and pots for house plants intended to stay with the plant throughout its life
  • a disposable item designed to be used at the point of sale which does not fulfil a packaging function, eg drinks stirrers and plastic cutlery.

Don't forget that customers can be annoyed by wasteful packaging. It's inconvenient and they think they're paying for it.

Good packaging design can help you minimise the amount of packaging needed for goods while still providing sufficient protection. And sometimes a small change in a product's design can significantly reduce the amount of packaging it requires.

Analyse your packaging use

  • Assess whether you are using the least wasteful form of packaging. For instance, should a particular order be packed in individual boxes or shrink-wrapped on a pallet?
  • Consider whether packaging can be reused. You could, for example, ask customers whether they mind products being delivered to them in reused packaging. You might even pass on some of the cost savings you get as a result.
  • Think how you could recycle packaging waste. This will reduce your waste disposal costs, and you may even be able to sell waste for recycling. Consider whether you could buy recycled materials to use in your own packaging - see how to recycle your business waste and reuse your business waste to boost profits.