My immediate reaction was: phew, looks like the consumer is starting to get through to the manufacturer that there is no need for plastic, at least in the proportion it has previously been used, to package goods. Certainly, there are increasing numbers of people who are not only voicing their concerns about the amount of unnecessary and unrecyclable packaging but actively trying to reduce what they put in landfill.
However, the more recyclable packaging still has an impact on the environment (e.g. because of the energy needed in the process of collection and beyond). The product inside the packaging still has an impact on the environment (e.g. because of the materials needed in its production). The consumer still has an impact on the environment (e.g. because of the energy used to go to the shop to buy the product).
Of course, I am over-the-moon that my daughter’s Easter egg came without plastic this year and I hope that next year, should I buy her an egg again, it too will be without such. In the short term, this is a positive step: showing that life without plastic trays can be a reality. And perhaps increasing numbers of products will be packaged in a less damaging way, following in the wake of the 2013 Easter egg. Yet better packaging in the longer term may not discourage people from buying packaged food. If card is recyclable, what’s the problem? If foil is recyclable, what are the concerns?
Well, as mentioned above, the modern Easter egg still has some cost to the environment. But beyond that, the adaptation to card from plastic is like a dieter using saccharin instead of sugar: it is not altering any behaviours. If I feel that the Easter egg pictured above is acceptable on environmental grounds, I will buy one next year and the year after. And so will most other people.
However, the current situation is no more sustainable in the long run than the one it has replaced. I hope therefore that the plastic tray will become a thing of the past in all food packaging but, in addition, that the cardboard alternative will not stop us from moving towards even greater sustainability as quickly as possible.