We eat more chocolate per head in the UK than almost anywhere else on Earth. Up there with Switzerland. According to market researchers Mintel, the average Brit can get through more than 8kg of chocolate per year. That’s the weight of an actual (very large) bunny rabbit. And yes, a big chunk of our chocolate is bought and scoffed at Easter.
For the purposes of this article we’re more concerned about waste than waistlines. A few years ago the government's waste advisory body, Wrap, calculated that the 80-odd million Easter eggs we buy each year come with around 3,000 tonnes of packaging – a significant amount of it plastic waste.
This alarming figure, alongside a campaign led by LibDem MP Jo Swinson, has encouraged some manufacturers to rethink their excessive overpackaging of Easter eggs.
In a minute we’ll look at how they’ve been doing since. In particular, how much plastic they’re still using in their Easter egg packs, or not.
Meanwhile, you could take a minute to sign our petition to Easter egg manufacturers, asking them to stop using plastic in their packaging.
Plastic in your Easter egg box?
Plastic in packaging comes in lots of different guises.
The most obvious, and blatantly excessive type in the case of Easter eggs is the moulded plastic (“vacuum-form” it’s called) that coddles the whole egg – and often bends around the shape of the box for good measure. This plastic is sometimes not even recyclable.
Another common type of plastic you’ll spot around Easter eggs is the flexible, foldable see-through outer box, usually with a cardboard egg-holder inside. This plastic is sometimes clear PVC, which is not only difficult to recycle, it’s worth avoiding generally.
“Flow-wrap” plastic (used for little sealed bags of sweeties inside Easter eggs) is often polyethylene (PE or PET) – which should in theory be easy to recycle; but because it’s film, it’s not. It’s another example of why it’s best to avoid plastic in the first place, rather than rely on recycling.
Hidden plastics can lurk in your packaging too. That nice shiny cardboard might sometimes have a plastic coating. (Note, the Easter eggs makers we contacted all said they don’t use plastic-coated card, but some others might.) And sometimes what looks like foil wrap is actually plasticised.
How can you tell? Well here’s a couple of easy tests – the soak test and the scrunch test – which you can do at home. (Admittedly that means you’ve already got your egg, but at least you’ll know for next time.)
- With card or paper, try soaking a piece of it in water for a few hours, and see if a plastic layer starts to separate or peel off.
- With foil, simply scrunch it into a ball in your hand. If it stays scrunched, it’s probably aluminium and can go in the metal recycling – check if your council will collect it with the tins, otherwise store it and take it to a recycling centre. (Recycling aluminium is a very good thing because it needs 95% less energy to make new aluminium from old than it does from scratch.) On the other hand, if the foil bounces back when you scrunch it, it’s actually “metallised plastic film” (like some crisp packets), and not recyclable. Worth avoiding that.
Packing or egg – which comes first?
Easter egg manufacturers may say they need to use plastic and other packaging for lots of reasons. Protection against egg breakage, or for freshness, hygiene, security (it’s got to be tamper-proof nowadays).
They’ll also say some consumers like to see the chocolate, rather than just an image on a box, and you can only do that using clear plastic.
Plus of course there’s the fact that bigger, gaudier packaging catches the eye more, and leaves less shelf space for competitors. Though you’d hope the anti-packaging backlash might turn that particular marketing idea on its head.
Trade magazine The Grocer claims there’s a trend towards shareable mini eggs (some of which can be over-packaged too); but lots of people are clearly still buying the big traditional boxed "shell" eggs.
As we’ll see below, a lot of manufacturers have already made reductions in their Easter egg packaging, but some could do a lot more.
And you can help encourage them. Not just through your shopping choices this Easter, but by directly asking chocolate egg makers to produce plastic-free packaging.
Love chocolate, hate plastic waste
We love chocolate as much as anyone – some of us probably more so (no names). So we genuinely don’t want to spoil anyone’s Easter pleasure.
We’re just saying it’s worth bearing in mind that, after our few moments of chocolate joy, it’s the packaging that stays around. And if it’s plastic, that might mean forever.
Friends of the Earth's Easter eggs-amination…
We thought we’d look at the choices you have this Easter – taking a fairly random, across-the-board selection of choccy eggs on sale, from supermarkets to wholefood shops.
We’ll reveal a few that are still being sold in what we'd call excessive packaging, especially plastic, and ask some of those manufacturers what they’re going to do about it.
We’ll also reveal some plastic-free and environmentally sounder Easter egg choices. And they might not always be what you’d expect…
Nestlé makes Smarties, Aero, Milkybar, Kit Kat, Yorkie, After Eight, among other brands of Easter egg. From our own unscientific shopping research, its Easter egg boxes do seem to have a welcome lack of vacuum-form moulded plastic found in some others. Some even carry a logo saying: “No plastic – Easier to recycle”.
Nestlé told us: “Since 2006 we have removed 726 tonnes of plastic from across the range... We have worked very hard to minimise plastic in our Easter range. Around half of our Easter eggs contain no plastic at all... Of the Easter products that do contain plastic, this is limited to acetate film windows which are fully home-compostable.”
Sample prices: £1.50 for 122g Smarties egg / £8 for 500g After Eight egg.
Mondelēz (owner of Cadbury and Green & Black’s)
Mondelēz makes Cadbury Dairy Milk, Creme Eggs, Twirl, Wispa, Buttons, and the Green & Black’s range of Easter eggs, among others. In our random shopping selection we found that its Cadbury Mini Eggs box contained vacuum-form moulded plastic around the contents.
Mondelēz told us: “All Green & Black’s and Cadbury shell eggs are packed in a foil wrapper within a carton-board box that minimises the risk of breakage. The foil wrapper and carton board are plastic free” (though other products within the eggs, eg sweets, may be in plastic wrapping). “We have committed to reducing 65,000 tonnes for packaging by 2020 and we are firmly on track to exceed this goal.”
Sample prices: £10 for 515g Dairy Milk egg / £6 for 165g Green & Black’s egg.
Mars is the maker of Mars Bar, Maltesers, Celebrations, Galaxy, M&M’s and Twix Easter eggs, among others. Our shopping revealed that its Maltesers Teasers egg comes packaged in a large, see-through moulded vacuum-form tray (made of PET).
Mars told us: “We are dedicated to continually evolving our packaging goals… focusing on reducing waste and reducing carbon... At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, we were one of 11 companies to commit to working towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier.”
Sample prices: £4 for 248g Celebrations egg / Maltesers Teasers egg.
Lindt & Sprüngli
Lindt makes Lindor eggs and the famous gold-foiled chocolate bunnies, among other Easter chocs. Our shopping trip showed some of its egg packaging includes vacuum form moulded plastic trays inside the box, albeit made with recycled plastic (rPET).
Lindt told us: “We take our responsibility towards the environment extremely seriously and make sustainability a priority... Where our quality standards permit, we use recyclable, reusable and biodegradable materials. All our products have relevant recycling symbols on them to advise the consumer.”
Sample price: £10 for 260g Lindt Gold Bunny egg.
And here's a short selection of Easter eggs from smaller boutique/artisan chocolate makers.
Divine says it’s the only “100% Fairtrade” chocolate company, and is part-owned by Ghanaian cocoa farmers. Divine says it’s reduced the size and shape of its Easter egg boxes In the past couple of years to cut cardboard (which is FSC-sourced), and got rid of some plastic around mini eggs. It’s still seeking the right alternative, recyclable material for its see-through plastic bags.
Sample price: £9.99 for a 260g Divine egg, with mini eggs.
The award-winning Booja-Booja folk make organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, soya-free chocs and truffles. Booja-Booja's strikingly exotic-looking Easter eggs are mainly plastic free – the unique papier-mâché casing is made from rice paper and rice glue and hand-painted in an eco-friendly workers’ co-operative in India. But the company told us the truffles inside are in a "plastic and foil" bag, which is not recyclable.
Sample price: £24 for 138g Booja-Booja egg filled with 12 truffles.
Moo Free’s chocolates are known for being strictly vegan, GM-free and organic, so it’s clearly an environmentally aware company. But Moo Free told us it does still use some moulded plastic in its packaging “to keep the chocolate allergen-safe and protected.”
Sample price: £4 for 125g Moo Free egg, with buttons.
Plamil is a long-established ethical vegan food brand, and offers a small range of dairy-free “milk” and dark chocolate Easter goodies. Plamil told us it still uses small amounts of plastic in some lines (reducing all the time), but that its Easter eggs are all plastic-free – just foil-wrapped inside a recyclable cardboard box.
Sample price: £3.99 for 85g Plamil egg.
Montezuma’s 2018 Easter egg range includes organic and vegan options, as well as a 100% cocoa egg for hardcore choconnoisseurs (that should be a word). Its award-winning Eco Egg has a sturdy biodegradable paper outer shell and a foil wrapper.
Montezuma’s told us: “Our only Easter product which uses plastic is the Mini Eggs… a mixed paper and polypropylene foil, which is not recyclable. We are testing compostable and biodegradable alternatives for future use.”
Sample price: £9 for 150g Montezuma’s egg, with buttons/mini-eggs.
Alternatively… make your own chocolate eggs
One fun way to avoid all that excess packaging and waste is to make your own Easter eggs at home.
You can get hold of egg-shaped moulds, of all sizes, from kitchen/home shops like Lakeland and elsewhere. The moulds nowadays are usually silicone – which has its own issues, being tricky to recycle, but at least they’ll help you make lots of eggs for lots of years. A bit of Googling might turn up metal, glass or ceramic mould options.
You’ll find full Easter egg-making instructions here.
Get involved in a plastic-free Easter
As an alternative Easter gift, have a look at the Stuart Gardiner Chocolate tea towel, printed on organic cotton, in the Friends of the Earth shop.
And don't forget to sign and share our petition asking Easter egg manufacturers to make their packaging plastic-free. Thank you.