By Laura Potts

As spring approaches, so do the grasping hands of Easter and the shelves full of egg-shaped chocolate treats, in a hundred sizes and colours. But the main thing I notice as I walk through the supermarket is the quantity of packaging that comes with them. Each egg is sealed in plastic and stored in a cardboard box, and most come with other individually wrapped chocolates. The brightly coloured decorations upon the eggs and boxes are reminiscent of nature and the beautiful colours of spring.

The great irony, of course, is that the packaging boasting this decoration directly contributes to the destruction of that natural beauty. Through this attitude to resources, companies are investing in a ‘throw away society’, and future generations will have to carry the burden.

The fast consumerism of the food industry, symbolised by the plastic cup or box, is closely tied to the mentality of individualism and the fast-paced lifestyle of modern times. University communities are no exception to this societal trend.  The common campus habit of buying lunch and snacks every day builds up a carbon footprint that few would be proud of. People are busy, and the instant gratification of ‘on the go’ convenience is attractive, so few consider how ludicrous it is to use a container only once. Those that do are often satisfied if the proper facilities seem to be in place.

Before applying to NUA I was sure to research how they dealt with waste, and was glad to find that they do make use of recycling bins and other means. UEA does too, with food waste bins in student halls. However, provision of these facilities does not always help solve the issue. Unbeknownst to most, most coffee cups can’t be recycled due to the thin plastic coating on the inside. And of course, many students do not use the bins provided, even the ones in their own halls of residence. A certain feeling of luxury arises from the food industry’s approach to packaging, a feeling unfortunately unavailable to the people suffering as a result of the plastic industry. This penchant for excess filters down into our attitudes, and we value the the convenience of using the nearest bin over making the responsible choice.

Small as they are, the acts that we can each take do alleviate many problems that future generations will face

There are simple actions which can reduce this waste: using your own water bottle, purchasing a reusable coffee cup or bringing a packed lunch instead of purchasing a packaged sandwich. More pioneering steps have been taken, for example in Berlin where a supermarket free of harmful and unnecessary packaging opened in 2014. Founders Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski say they’re responding to demand for alternatives to the “lavish” handling of resources.


Original Unverpackt, the packaging-free supermarket in Berlin. Credit: Unverpackt

Discussion of this problem has come to the forefront of society lately, and rightly so – it must be addressed with great urgency. Small as they are, the acts that we can each take do alleviate many problems that future generations will face. With reduced demand, large companies would be forced to alter their marketing techniques and promote less packaging. Recent campaigns such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Wake Up and Smell the Waste’ have pushed hard for companies to start making coffee cups 100% recyclable through, bringing attention to the sheer quantity of waste that results and its detrimental effects: “It’s estimated that 2.5 billion ‘paper’ coffee cups are being thrown away in the UK every year . That’s almost 5,000 a minute, or 7 million per day.” This figure is shocking, especially in an era where the younger generation are often said to be more conscious about what we are eating and what aspects of the food industry we are supporting.

It is vital to use the means provided and recycle when possible, using food waste bins and avoiding purchasing items with lots of packaging. Taking these steps, either at home, in supermarkets or during the working day would drive a reduction in demand for harmful industry practices. And skip your Easter egg this year. Spring is a time for celebration of our natural world and the life that it brings. It is a dangerous contradiction to purchase items which destroy that world as part of that celebration.

Featured image via West London Waste

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