A social media campaign asking crisp manufacturers to make their packaging recyclable has led to Royal Mail issuing a plea to members of the public to put crisp packets in an envelope before posting them.
The #PacketInWalkers campaign was launched on 21 September, asking people to use “a pen, paper, and some sellotape” to send used Walkers’ crisp packets back to the Leicester-based crisp manufacturer. The campaign page says: “It won’t cost a penny as we can use Walkers’ own Freepost address. Imagine the scenes in Walkers HQ when hundreds of packets are delivered each day.”
The website urges protesters to simply attach an address label on to the empty packet, and then post a picture of themselves posting the crisp packet onto social media.
— Cathy Finch (@cathy_fnch) September 24, 2018
A Royal Mail spokeswoman said: “If an item is addressed properly and carries the correct postage then Royal Mail is obliged by law to handle and deliver the item to the stated address.”
“We strongly encourage customers not to post anything into the postal system which is not properly packaged. And if they are taking part in this campaign we would urge them to put crisp packets in an envelope before posting.”
Walkers have said they aim to phase out plastic in packaging by 2025, a target date which is not seen as soon enough by campaigners.
Over 300,000 people have signed a petition on the 38 Degrees website asking “Walkers and other manufacturers to change the materials for their packets to one which is recyclable or even more preferably a non-plastic environmentally friendly material”.
The petition claims that “the UK alone consumes approximately 6bn packets a year. Crisp packets have been found intact after 33 years. Imagine during that time the effect on wildlife and the environment. At today’s consumption rate in 33 years’ time there will be 200bn crisp packets either sent to landfill or polluting our oceans.”
— Sue Coates (@westfieldsue) September 23, 2018
The petition was set-up by retired teacher Geraint Ashcroft from Pontypridd, who told the Leicestershire Live website: “I have always recycled crisp packets but I was shocked to learn that they weren’t actually recyclable. People don’t want this stuff going into landfill and they keep talking about making them compostable, but nothing is happening.”
Cathy Warren, a campaigner at 38 Degrees, said: “Royal Mail has asked people to use envelopes when posting crisp packets, and we will update the thousands of Walkers customers who are taking part. Walkers produce a staggering 7,000 plastic crisp packets a minute, which they don’t pay a penny to clean up. They need to listen to their customers and take action now.”
In August the campaigners hired a billboard van to repeatedly circle the Walkers Crisps factory in Leicester with a message asking them to ditch plastic.
A Walkers spokesperson said of the #PacketInWalkers campaign: “We recognise the efforts being made to bring the issue of packaging waste to our attention. The returned packets will be used in our research, as we work towards our commitment of improving the recyclability of our packaging.”
The company has previously said: “We have a number of initiatives in place to reduce the amount of packaging we use and at the same time we’re examining the use of different packaging materials, both plant- and paper-based. We don’t have all the answers yet, which is why we’re collaborating with a number of leaders in this area to learn and share the latest science and practical solutions.”
So far the scale of the crisp-posting problem seems minimal, with Royal Mail saying it has only seen around 30 of the items so far. Items not placed in envelopes or packages cannot be machine-sorted, leading to an increased hand-sorting workload.