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Plastic pollution – is there a simple solution?

Plastic waste

Plastic pollution - what can be done?

UPDATED 14 October 2018
Since initially posting this article in January, we'd live to give you a quick update of the measures that we're planning to take to reduce the use of plastic or at least make the plastic more sustainable if no viable alternatives exist. We're making these changes after in-depth discussion with packaging material suppliers. It's fair to say that the plastics packaging industry is quickly trying to 'up its game' as a result of the justifiable focus by the media and general public.

  1. Swapping the plastic of the Soda Crystals bag to a recyclable one
  2. Trialing a bottle for one of our own lines that will consist of recycled plastic
  3. Swapping one of our products from a plastic to tub to a cardboard box

We have also been attending Retailer supplier conferences and are very pleased to report that the reduction in the use of plastic is a top priority for them.


We've posted previously about the packaging options available to us. Packaging decisions are often complex; it's not just about the suitability of a material for its intended purpose, other factors come into play. Cost is undoubtedly a major one. Now waste and recycling is (rightly) in the media spotlight. Almost every decision has an impact and most of those may not be immediately obvious.

Dri-Pak pays a tax on ALL the materials used in its products under 'Packaging Waste Regulations', which is intended to be used to fund recycling. The majority of our products are packaged in recycled cardboard, which can in itself be recycled. But liquids like white vinegar and liquid soap need to be packaged in plastic. Glass would not only increase production costs, it would increase transport costs due to the weight and there would be more breakages and associated clean up expenses, contamination of other products in transit etc. 

It would seem relatively straight-forward to say that 'we should recycle more'. In practice however, it's a complex situation:

  • Although some plastics can be recycled, some can't - either because of their composition or because facilities do not exist. For example, although a plastic bottle can be recycled, the cap usually isn't, because of a lack of facilities. Even if the customer discards the cap, there is often a tamper-evident ring left on the bottle neck that's difficult to remove. Do we remove the tamper evident caps? Does the customer try to remove it, possibly risking injury, or does the recycling centre remove it? Which leads us on to...
  • Who sorts the recycling? This process has a manual element to it. The outputs are not commercially viable and in the UK we simply can't cope with the current levels of recycling. As a country, we have historically exported waste to countries like China for sorting and recycling, where labour is cheap. There is of course an environmental impact involved in transportation, but now China is banning this practice anyway.
  • There's more on the sustainability of plastics on the BPF website.

At the moment, single use plastic is under the spotlight - particularly drinks bottles and disposable coffee cups but no doubt the scope of the discussion will increase to multiple use products, like cleaning products. Society needs to re-evaluate its 'consumption' patterns; that may be on a personal level (do you really need to buy a bottle of water when the tap water is just as good and could be put into a drinks bottle for use outside the home?) or at a national level? Can consumers be incentivised to switch, either by taxes like the plastic bag tax or by forced retailer 'deposit back' schemes? 

The government is also considering a 'stick' approach and is consulting on the introduction of a packaging tax for plastic products with less than 30% recycled content. The problems are many: the recycled content simpy isn't available at present and the end outcome, whether it's more recycled plastic or taxed virgin plastic is that products on the shelves will cost more. Many people are happy to call for  more sustainable products but rather less willing to pay more at the till for such products. This article talks about the types of plastic and their recyclability

Dri-Pak's position

At Dri-Pak, we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and welcome any initiative at a micro or macro level that follows the mantra of reduce, re-use and recycle. But this has to be a top-down approach, it's rare that manufacturers will unilaterally be able to make such a decision. Most packaging change initiatives will involve increased cost, because those that reduce costs are already likely to have been implemented. Retailers are loathe to accept any packaging changes that incur costs for the consumer. So even if a manufacturer like Dri-Pak tried to opt for a 'greener' packaging solution, it's unlikely that a retailer would accept the increased cost. They are actively trying to drive DOWN costs from manufacturers. The rise of the discounters has undoubtedly moved the market towards lower prices (as a proportion of household expenditure).

Eco-packaging is a laudable goal, but often has to be paid for and the 'cradle to grave' impact considered. For example, does compostable plastic release CO2 that has been locked away in oil for millions of years? Some plastics are plant based but tend to have a higher initial cost. Hopefully technology can play a part in bringing innovative solutions; scientists discovered that old plastic bottles can be used to make fleeces and they will undoubtedly discover alternative uses for waste plastic. It may be that if it can't be economically recycled, it can be used to create electricity and heat. It's not ideal, but if it means that less coal and oil is burned, then the OVERALL environmental impact can be reduced ie the lesser of two evils. Watch this interesting video on CHP.

Some of the wider issues are discussed in this article from the British Plastics Federation.

However, at the end of the day, the buck has to stop at the customer...or the tax payer! 

We'd welcome your comments and suggestions. Feel free to comment below or join the chat on our Facebook page

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59 thoughts on “Plastic pollution – is there a simple solution?

  1. The price of the soda crystals seems to have tripled in a matter of a few years. I’m fairly sure they were about 50p, then with people wanting to find cheaper alternatives to the usual washing powders (and despite their cost, don’t seem to work as well as they used to without having to use pre- and in-wash additions), the price shot up more so than other products. Are the supermarkets “profiteering” or has the maker caused the cost of the product increase that dramatically.

    1. Hi – as the manufacturer, we aren’t allowed to talk to retailers to even suggest a price, never mind insist on one. We believe that the price should be around £1 and although there are increasing pressures on costs, you will find that the price of a bag hasn’t varied much in the last 6 years. You can find them on the High Street at anywhere between 70p and £1.20. Unless of course you’re looking at online sellers where price will be much higher because of the cost of postage, relative to the value of the product. The bags that you see at Waitrose and Wilko are £1.50 because they are at a larger 1.5kg size, which is what some customers were asking for.

      1. It’s been a while since I bought some and really don’t remember the size I’d bought before – just assumed it was the same kilo bag. Also, I didn’t think there’d be such a big price difference for a basic product – Dyas have them at £1.50 for 1kg 🙁
        Which is more “environmentall friendly”, soda crystals or borax substitute?

        1. Both Soda Crystals and Borax Substitute are environmentally friendly in that neither are harmful to the environment or aquatic life in normal domestic use.

    1. Hi – this is covered in the article. Here is the excerpt:
      “Glass would not only increase production costs, it would increase transport costs due to the weight and there would be more breakages and associated clean up expenses, contamination of other products in transit etc. “

    2. What would be the benefit of a bottle over a bag? The way I see it, you can squash bags together, fitting more in the transport container.

  2. Regarding comments on boxed packaging for soda crystals requiring a plastic inner bag, could the box not be waterproofed by a thin coating of vegetable derived wax or shellac? Both are natural and biodegradable.

    1. Unfortunately the lines that pack Soda Crystals are designed for bags. Switching to boxes now would be hugely prohibitive from a capital expenditure point of view. But is certainly something that could be considered long term. Thanks for your suggestion.

  3. Yes, I recently bought a stainless steel washing up bowl in Dunelm for £5. I use a bowl to use less water for washing up. Can use the sink when there is a lot to wash up.

  4. I want to be able to refill, used to use Ecover and could buy 5 litre bottles from places like Big Green Smile online, rally would like to see a range of Dri-Pak refills I can keep in the shed or back of kitchen cupboard.

    1. Hi Michelle – unfortunately we simply don’t have the packing or filling lines to offer such a product; we are geared up to service the retail market, rather than the janitorial or bulk/refill market. The one exception is Soda Crystals; we do supply 10kg and 25kg bags, which can be purchased from Chinese wholesalers.

  5. Would you consider selling certain items in larger packaging for customers to decant themselves. For example, liquid soap flakes in 5 litre or even 5 gallon PET containers. We get through so much of this as it is our main laundry soap. The 5 litre and 5 gallon containers are much easier to keep in the reuse loop than 500ml. If there was an option to buy direct from you I’d take it (is there?). It has to be ordered online for my tiny local Wilkos and they wrap each bottle in so much tape and plastic packaging it’s sent me looking for an alternative supply.

    Kudos for opening the discussion with your customers.

    1. Hi – not only do we have a filling line for such a size, the retailers simply won’t stock it as an item. We really aren’t trying to pass the buck, but the retailers call the shots on pack sizes sold. 5 litres is into the realm of ‘janitorial supply’. You’d have to contact Wilko about the additional packaging being used, but we can certainly raise it with them at our next meeting.

  6. Please please start to or go back to use cardboard boxes for the soda crystal, people are getting crazy trying to find this product free from plastic packaging.

  7. Thanks for the reply and I do get what you mean about the ‘knitting’ and the difficulty in changing peoples’ shopping behaviour. I do believe though that given a good and affordable alternative that peoples instinct for greener is closer to the surface than what things can look like? This thread has helped me get thinking though. Also now i have bought these greener cleaning products, i need to learn properly how to use them. Hopefully they will make cleaning more interesting and enjoyable!

  8. Could you start up a couple of shops of your own in derbyshire and sell some of your product in a different way? This way you wont be bound by other retailers demands on how you present and package your products. You would have more community presence and become embedded in the thoughts and shopping habits of local community.

    1. As much as we’d love to expand our empire…it’s not something we have the expertise to undertake, never mind the resources (financial or employees). There’s a phrase in business of ‘sticking to the knitting’. An analogy might be an F1 team deciding to make race tracks :-).

  9. I am aware that sheer quantity to be recycled is problem as much as what do we turn it into that in turn can be recycled again? Is fleece material one of those things that can be recycled? From a socialist point of view, greener products should not be more expensive. They should be available to everyone. This i think is key. Valuing any item must be a good thing, so why not encourage people who buy your product to value what it is held in and to become attached to their year in year out reusable container? We could fill up in shops from your big dispensing unit? This is a way of involving us more in how we come by our necessities of life and having some ownership and responsibility. How many different household tasks can your soap cover? For example could I use it for bathing? Washing my hair? Washing all my clothes, not just woollens? In other words, simplify and cut through all the fetishism and complexity around products and advertising, make it greener, less capitalistic and more cooperative. Maybe you could employ me to help lol! I really could do with a new job and a change of direction.

    1. This would involve a HUGE change in shopping behaviour, regulations etc. We suspect things WILL have to change, just as, say, some newsagents have started stocking jars of sweets and selling them in paper bags but it’s unlikely to happen at a societal level. At least the issue is now on the agenda and the government may take ‘carrot & stick’ action to enable a change in the throw away culture.

  10. UPDATE 17/1/18 – What a bold move by Iceland. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42692642
    The more retailers realise that customers want change, the more they will respond. There may well  be some short term cost increases but as the demand for alternatives and more environmentally friendly plastic alternatives, the more industry will achieve some economies of scale.

  11. Yes, the Soda Crystals do soak up moisture so that would mean that it is a wet product, in a way, so the plastic bag it comes in is essential. However, I would like to be able to recycle the bag. There is no instruction on the bag, one way or another, to tell us about recycling it. How long does it take to decompose, in landfill?

      1. I notice you neatly managed to duck Elizabeth’s question: she clearly understands why soda crystals require plastic packaging. Her question was about recycling this plastic bag once the crystals have been used. I understand that changing the way you package this product would involve prohibitive costs, but I do feel it is incumbent upon you to establish a recycling path for your packaging and then print clear instructions on each and every bag. “Not widely recycled” helps no-one. An address to which we can send the bag for recycling once the contents are gone would be far more helpful.

          1. What will the recycling number be please? No’s. 1,2 and 3 are widely recycled, but anything else is maybe not worth it. Have you considered packing the crystals in the same type of plastic that we get our milk in. That is recyclable everywhere, apart from the lid of course.

          2. We’re still weighing up the options. It isn’t just a case of deciding what medium to put the product in, it’s a case of what the packing lines are built for. The line packs bags, not bottles. But the main reason is that the product is far better suited to a bag. If people store them in a warm place and they go hard, they can still easily get at them to dissolve them in a bag; you couldn’t if they were in a bottle.

  12. I’ve also been thinking about the spray bottle refill idea suggested by many others above. I can see the difficulty you point out, but would the online retailers who stock your products (many of which specialise in eco-friendly cleaning products) have the same objection? Or would it not be cost-effective to produce refills only for sale online? Perhaps we need to put consumer pressure on the big retailers to change their policy.

  13. Wow an excellent post – what a brilliant initiative to ask customers what they want and what they’re prepared to sacrifice to get it. I haven’t digested in total yet but it’s certainly started a debate in our house. Please don’t give up; keep the conversation going!

  14. Go back to the old days…..When all the things the shop was selling to us the customer was in paper bags…
    These days the paper bags could be nice and STRONG,,and when finished at the end of the day could be thrown into the bin and decay like news papers..or even made to reuse again….Unlike PLASTIC OF ALL sorts that will not decay..
    I am from the OLD DAYS when every thing was put into paper bags..

    1. I agree with Melvyn on this, i for one never asked for plastic bags and carried traditional shopping bag for years but gave up when I could see the majority of people just didn’t bother. Paper bags were always used again as were jars, bottles and boxes etc.

  15. Hello Dripak – really good to see you’re taking the new cutting out plastic policy so seriously. I wish all shops were like you. I’m trying to search for a non plastic washing up bowl. I’ve tried enamel washing up bowls and they don’t work – any suggestions?

  16. I think the trigger part of the bottle could be optional as most of us have spares we throw out when we get a replacement bottle this would save on plastic and a recyclable cap could be used instead

  17. What has happened to paper bags? Start small supermarkets, and remove the plastic bags which are put out for loose products. Any change however small could make an impact.

  18. Why not set up local outlets (existing retailers / stores?) to stock your products in bulk (i.e. 250 litre drums), then retail to the public by dispensing into customer’s own containers? You would eliminate the transport costs for glass and remove most of your costs in taxes, disposal, spill clean-up whilst in transit. Not a new idea; the Rochdale Pioneers thought this solution up in 1810, and it worked splendidly for them.

    1. This sounds like a fantastic ‘grass roots’ idea and we were approached by a start up Lindon company to do this….but we’re not aware that it ever got off the ground. There are issues such as traceability and safety. Of course, we don’t have the funds or experience to set up such outlets (we’re simply a manufacturer) but we’d be happy to supply such establishments if the logistics worked and the retailers could get around the ‘red tape’.

      1. Sorry to hijack this comment but I’m sure that Sound Bites in Derby would definitely be up for a bulk idea like this. I recently discovered them due to them supplying your products and found out they already do a ‘refill scheme’ with some of the Bio D products they sell (they get 25l drums if the product and then ask you bring back the 1l bottles they sell for refilling).

        As I’ve been using your white vinegar for fabric softener I would love to have a refill option for that. (I’ve been using the citric acid trick for surface cleaning as at least that comes in cardboard).

        1. Hi Rachel – I’m afraid it’s more about our packing lines and who we sell to. We don’t have the facility to put it in 5 litre drums and we sell directly to wholesalers, who in turn sell to retailers. 5 litre containers are more of a janitorial supply market. There are very few ‘refill’ type retailers right now to make this viable for wholesalers to stock the line we would suggest. However, we promise that we WILL raise this with our key wholesale customers so that we have it from the ‘horse’s mouth’. Meanwhile, diluting citric acid is…and always will be…more economical with lower environmental impact than buying acetic acid that has been already diluted in water (ie white vinegar). Thank you for your input and make sure that you’ve signed up to our newsletter so that we can inform you of any updates.

      1. Yes…we have tried. But of course if customers requested that they stock our products, they’re more likely to be receptive. Thank you for your support.

  19. Cleaning products (from all manufacturers) tend to be in single use packaging. Why can’t retailers buy in bulk so that customers can refill the bottles they already have?

  20. I use Dri-park soda crystals extensively for household chores. Is it possible to package them in cardboard rather than plastic? Thank you.

    1. All our dry products are packed in cardboard. Soda Crystals are a WET product so need to be in a plastic bag. Even when they were sold in a cardboard box, there was a plastic bag inside.

  21. Sheffield Council burn a lot of waste which provides heat for many buildings. Litter laws should be enforced with heavy fines. It would pay to employ wardens to enforce litter dropping. In some areas of Sheffield the streets are a disgrace due to the local population not caring about their environment. NB politicians should visit these areas.

  22. Hi
    I use a lot if white vinegar for cleaning and laundry and often wondered if it would be more eco friendly to supply it in a refill carton much like the carton some wines are supplied in or even a gallon plastic one

    1. Regarding the comments about offering refill bottles, without triggers etc – this is on the surface, eminently sensible and something we would be in favour of if demand was sufficient….but…retailers will not accept it. They will not stock two of essentially the same product. There is extreme pressure on what they call SKUs (stock keeping units). Because the major multiples have been struggling in recent years, they are REDUCING the number of lines they stock. The really big companies like P&G and Unilever may have the power to insist that they stock a standard line and a refill, but it will mean that another line would have to be dropped…and that often means dropping lines from smaller manufacturers like Dri-Pak.

  23. l use your soda crystals and feel that the un-recycleable plastic packaging could easily be replaces by a cardboard box as used by detergent manufacturers. This could be recycled with kerbside collection or composted in my garden compost bin. I doubt this would cost more but if it did l would pay an extra 1p or 2p per pack. The only way to reduce and hopefully wipeout plastic packaging is for government to introduce punative taxes on the manufacture of plastic which would force companies to look for more cost effective solutions.

  24. Can you not try selling just the bottles with a silver foil placed over the top of the bottle, at a cheaper price to encourage people to keep the existing top/spray nozzle from an old bottle? This can just be kept & reused time & time again?
    That’s one way you could do it, which would mean less waste.

  25. I buy white vinegar in glass bottles from Waitrose. I buy bars of soap. I use Dri Pak cleaning products. Soda crystals go hard when opened even when packed in plastic, so just put them back in cardboard like your other products. I need disinfectant but Dettol changed from glass bottles so plastic, so I don’t buy it.

  26. Why not move to offer refillable bottles? Splosh are doing this to great success. The customer buys a set of plastic bottles that are then refilled resulting in far less plastic waste. Or even selling refil bottles which are the same as the regular bottles but with no trigger spray included, so the old plastic bottle is recycled and the trigger spray which can’t be recycled gets used again

  27. I understand that “plastic” can also be made from various plants such as corn (The packing beads for example) and is therefore totally biodegradable and can be composted. No need to use oil, no need to recycle and no need to wait 100s of years for it to break down Have you investigated whether this is an option for bottles ?

    1. This is something that has merit but for now, they are more expensive. Also, the counter argument is that it diverts agriculture from food production (just like bio-diesels), so the ‘big picture’ solution isn’t that simple.

      1. Not only are you bothering to reply to your customers’ feedback, for which thank you, but your intelligent, helpful, non-evasive responses show that you are actively considering this vexing Q. Excellent!

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