The Packaging Paradox

The Packaging Paradox

The food system currently involves far too much packaging. There is an urgent priority to reduce the environmental impacts of packaging pollution on our oceans and soils.  

We have a packaging dilemma:  

  • We can’t live with it; consumers have consistently put packaging at the top of their environmental priorities since 2018. 
  • We can’t live without it; it has essential functions like protecting food in transit, extending shelf life, reducing waste, and preventing contamination.  


Finding ways to reduce packaging is central to any sustainable future

If there has to be packaging it should be reusable or recyclable. But that’s not always easy. When you pick up a product check if it carries the on-pack recycling label (OPRL) which uses a binary method of ‘recycle’ or ‘do not recycle’ so you know what can be recycled at homeOften the barriers to recycling a material can be overcome if this is considered and prioritised in the design stage by the manufacturer. If your favourite product has packaging that cannot be recycled why not contact the manufacturer and ask why? As a consumer you have the power to drive change. 

In the organic sector, consumers agree that packaging is a priority. The 2023 Organic Market Report put ‘excess packaging and waste’ as the top consumer eco concern. 


Unique challenges for the organic sector 

The organic sector operates in a different way to a number of products. There is a legal requirement for organic products to be kept separate from non-organic in most supermarkets to avoid fraud. This is why you might sometimes see organic products in what can feel unnecessary packaging. Many retailers are trialing alternatives such as stickers or netting, and we’re actively working with supermarkets and industry experts such as WRAP to address this barrier, encourage innovation and promote best practice.  

If you’re concerned about organic fresh produce wrapped in plastic, we recommend contacting the retailer directly as they are often highly responsive to customer’s demands.  

It’s also worth being aware that independent organic retailers are legally allowed to provide unwrapped organic produce, as are all the wonderful organic veg box schemes. 

What is the Soil Association doing?  

The Soil Association sets standards that are higher than the legal minimum for organic products. Our standards are the only organic standards in the UK that cover any aspect of packaging. From time to time we review these standards to ensure that they are still making the best possible impact on our world. 

We work with industry to explore all aspects of a products life – from the ground to your home. Packaging plays a role throughout the supply chain journey, some of which you don’t tend to see. For example, bringing products in bulk from a food company to a store involves the use of materials for pallets, boxes and wraps. 

We are running a major public consultation on our organic packaging standards in 2023 and have convened a group of leading independent experts to help oversee the process and make recommendations.  

The aims of this consultation to review our organic standards are:  

  • Remove problematic (or unrecyclable/damaging) plastic packaging from use
  • Protect consumers from exposure to harmful ‘forever’ chemicals
  • Reduce deforestation risks from packaging with source certification of paper and card


Learn more about our packaging consultation.


If you have thoughts or opinions to share about our consultation then please contact us at before 22nd September 2023 

Soil Association will keep working with you to regenerate our world – action by action. It’s our view that a black and white approach isn’t necessarily helpful, and nor is a culture of blame. To minimise trade-offs, businesses need to be better-informed, innovative, and open to new ways of doing things. At the Soil Association, we certainly don’t promise to have all the answers, but we are committed to working with partners, members, citizens, and licensed businesses as we develop solutions.