Reduce packaging

Last updated: 10 November 2022

Sustainable shopping includes consideration of the way your food and other purchases are packaged. Australians throw away around 1.9 million tonnes of packaging each year – enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground nine times over. Packaging takes a lot of energy, water and other natural resources to produce, and packaging waste pollutes our air, water and soil.

Reduce and recycle your packaging waste as much as possible to:

  • minimise use of raw materials to produce packaging
  • reduce energy expenditure and emissions associated with the manufacture of packaging
  • minimise waste sent to landfill
  • stay healthy by avoiding processed food.

Top 10 tips to avoid packaging

1. Grow your own food

With a small amount of space you can start a balcony garden, a wall garden, or an indoor garden, and don't forget your local community garden. By growing your own food you will eliminate all packaging, plus the energy expenditure and emissions associated with transportation of food. You will also save money.

2. Cook at home, BYO containers, or have your food to stay

Takeaway food tends to include a lot of packaging and unnecessary waste, such as plastic and polystyrene containers, single-use plastic bags, napkins and disposable dinnerware. Add delivery to your takeaway and there may be emissions associated with the transportation. Take meals from home or have your food to stay at restaurants to avoid unnecessary takeaway packaging. You can also BYO containers to pick food up.

3. Use reusable packaging

Sandwich bags, freezer bags, garbage bags and so on. With so much plastic in our world do we really need to buy more? Rinsed out glass and plastic containers make great storage containers for leftovers or use bees-waxed cotton wraps – goodbye cling wrap. Try substituting a glass instead of plastic container for your leftovers. If you must buy plastic bags, buy those made from recycled plastic and remember to put your kerbside recycling out loose, not in plastic bags.

4. Make a shopping list

Buying unnecessary food items can result in extra packaging waste, not to mention financial waste and potential food waste. Make a list before you leave home, of only the things you really need to buy. Buying produce from your local farmers' market, grocer or market – a sustainable approach to food shopping – will limit the temptation of packaged foods and support local business at the same time. Make the list on your phone and you won't even need to use paper.

5. Look for items with little or no packaging

Many items come in a variety of packaging styles. Compare products and choose unpackaged items, items with less packaging, and concentrates whenever possible. Switch from tea bags to tea leaves, ditch coffee pods for ground coffee, bake your own muesli bars, buy in bulk rather than single serving packages and so on. Some stores will allow you to bulk purchase food using your own containers. Not only will you reduce your carbon footprint, this approach will often save you money.

6. Say no to straws and plastic bags

Australians use around 10 million plastic bags every day, contributing to an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the ocean every year. Plastic straws are also a big contributor and are one of the most common items found on beaches all over the world. Wherever possible, use bags you already have at home, such as backpacks or cloth bags for your shopping (including fresh produce). Keep some in your car and carry one with you so you never need to take a single-use plastic bag. And remember to say 'no bag please' in supermarkets and other shops, and 'no straws please' in bars and restaurants.

7. Ban the bottle

Invest in a good quality, reusable drinking bottle, rather than purchasing bottled water. Better for your health and the environment, refilling your water from the tap eliminates the plastic used to create bottles, as well as energy and emissions associated with transporting bottled water from its source to retailers. If you prefer filtered water, reusable water filters can be purchased inexpensively.

8. Buy products in recyclable packaging

Buy fewer items packaged in plastic and avoid packaging made from multiple materials, as it can be more difficult to recycle. If you have the option to buy an item in either a glass or plastic container, go for glass. Ask for items at the butcher or deli to be wrapped in paper rather than plastic, and either pack your fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce loose or use reusable bags.

9. Buy products made from recycled materials

Buying items made from or packaged in recycled materials supports the recycling industry by creating demand for the materials we place in our recycling bins. Examples include recycled toilet paper, paper towels and writing paper.

10. Recycle

Unavoidable packaging should be separated into glass, plastic, paper and metal and placed in your kerbside recycling bin.

Ending label confusion for better recycling

While our research has shown that Australians are good recyclers, we have also found many people are confused about recycling of common items. This can be caused by misleading or incorrect labelling on packaging and means that, even with the best intentions we may be sending precious recyclable materials to landfill.

At the Australian Environment Ministers meeting, states and territories agreed to work with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation towards its target of making 100% of Australian packaging recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 or earlier.

Sustainability Victoria is working with Planet Ark and the Australian Packing Covenant Organisation to help people make informed decisions and ensure our recycling efforts are resulting in maximum resource recovery. Other organisations involved in this work include Coles, Woolworths, Officeworks, Blackmores, Australia Post, T2 and Plantic. We are all committed to ending labelling confusion and reducing recycling contamination rates.

Other ways to shop sustainably

Every time we purchase a product or service – gifts, food, fashion, property, appliances, hot water systems and energy – we have the option to shop sustainably. Decide on an area that's important to you and start making a difference through your choices.