An online social media campaign calling for popular U.K. chip manufacturer Walkers to adopt a more sustainable packaging method has succeeded. After hundreds of thousands of empty potato crisp packages were sent back to Walkers by environmental critics, the PepsiCo-owned company is launching a free recycling initiative to collect and repurpose the plastic packaging. Initially, Walkers intended to adopt a better packaging solution by 2025, but pressure from consumers has resulted in a momentous decision by company leaders to make the change now.
“Our new Walkers recycling initiative starts to tackle this issue right now by repurposing used crisp packets to create everyday items,” announced Ian Ellington, general manager for PepsiCo U.K., on Friday. Starting in December, consumers will be able to deposit any brand of empty chip bags with recycling firm TerraCycle. The company is setting up collection points nationwide as well as a free-of-charge mailing system where users can post their chip bags using a box or envelope.
Walkers came under public scrutiny after it was revealed that it produced over 7,000 non-recyclable potato chip packets every minute. These empty bags find their ways into landfills and oceans at a rate of approximately 6 billion packs a year. Backlash resulted in a highly-publicized plea by the British Royal Mail for chip consumers to stop sending empty bags back to the company (despite their respect for the conservation movement), because the mass mailings were tampering with its service efficiency.
“We share people’s concerns about the amount of plastic in our environment and are working on a number of both short- and long-term solutions to reduce the impact of our packaging,” Ellington said.
Walkers maintains that its packaging is in fact, “technically recyclable, but the issue until now has been that they weren’t being separated or collected for recycling.” However, Recycle Now, the government-funded program created by waste advisory committee Wrap, claims this is not quite the case. The body reports that none of the produced packets are recyclable, and that they should be directed to the waste can, not the recycling bin.
Members of the 38 Degrees movement, which includes more than 332,000 petition-signers, will be keeping a close eye on Walkers and its repurposing plans. “We are delighted to hear that Walkers will now be recycling used crisp packets,” said David Babbs, executive director of the online campaign. “It is proof that public pressure can shift big companies to do more to prevent waste. But let’s not forget that there is still more for Walkers to do if they want to keep the public on side. The public will be watching to make sure the new recycling scheme isn’t just a PR stunt. And, most importantly, they have to make their crisp packets fully recyclable far sooner than 2025.”
Image via Caitriana Nicholson