Unwrapped chocolate Easter egg, outdoors on mossy ground

Plastic-free Easter eggs

Over-packaged chocolate Easter eggs seem to be everywhere. We've explore why, and what can be done about it, to help us all enjoy plastic-free, low-waste chocolate this year.
  Published:  16 Mar 2018    |      Last updated:  30 Mar 2021    |      3 minute read

Selection of chocolate Easter eggs in varied packaging
A selection of Easter chocolate goodies, in a range of packaging
Credit: Friends of the Earth

Did you know, the UK is one of the leading chocolate consumers in the world? 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 enjoyed at Easter.

We’re concerned about the waste that comes with this holiday. 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.

Plastic in your Easter egg box?

Plastic in packaging comes in lots of different forms.

The most obvious, and blatantly excessive type in the case of Easter eggs is the moulded plastic (called “vacuum-form”) that covers 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 difficult to recycle.

“Flow-wrap” plastic (used for little sealed bags of sweeties inside Easter eggs) is often polyethylene (PE or PET). This 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 it.

Testing for hidden plastic – scrunch or soak

Hidden plastics can lurk in your packaging too. That nice shiny cardboard might sometimes have a plastic coating. 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. 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.
Lindt Easter egg packaging, unboxed, showing moulded plastic tray
Some manufacturers use moulded plastic trays to hold eggs
Credit: Friends of the Earth

Love chocolate, hate plastic waste

Easter egg manufacturers may say they need to use plastic and other packaging for lots of reasons. Examples include: protection, freshness, hygiene and security.

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 still buying the big traditional boxed "shell" eggs.

We love chocolate as much as anyone. 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.

Packets of Cadbury mini eggs, emptied out of plastic egg container
Packets of mini eggs and the plastic egg they come in
Credit: Friends of the Earth

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/craft shops like Etsy 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 on the BBC website. Have fun!

Help reduce Easter egg plastic waste

You can help change this and encourage a move towards making plastic-free Easter eggs the easiest and most available option for everyone. If government sets new laws that reduce plastic pollution, this will send clear market signals to supermarkets and manufacturers to produce plastic-free packaging. Ask government to do just this by signing our petition.

Tell the UK government that we need a new law to phase out plastic pollution.

Tell the UK government that we need a new law to phase out plastic pollution.

x