By Becky Paskin

Turning the plastic tide

The fight against non-recyclables is a year-round task
I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. No doubt the period of excessive indulgence that is the December mince pie and cheese marathon is motivation enough to adopt a healthier and more altruistic lifestyle, even if, let’s be honest, it does only last a few weeks. But why wait to join a gym/give up smoking/reduce said cheese intake, when change can be made year-round?

It’s coincidence then, or perhaps a symptom of the consumption-driven festive period, that my latest quest for personal development falls around New Year. In fact I committed to this particular change several weeks before, while stuck in gridlock traffic as I scoured Brighton and Hove for a recycling bin.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas I’d received a number of whisky bottles from retailers and brands as gifts and review samples, plus a few bottles I’d ordered as presents for friends and family. Thankfully every one arrived intact (this is not always the case), but the trouble was all were encased in some form of protective plastic – bubble wrap, airpacks, film, bags and the cardinal sin of packaging, polystyrene peanuts. There was enough non-reusable plastic there to fill at least six bags for life.

Maybe 2020 is the year I’ll reclaim my under-sink cupboard from the bubble wrap monster.


Like most in the UK, my local council cannot recycle the majority of plastic despite the city’s green reputation and campaigning by Caroline Lucas MP. Milk and soda bottles are the extent of its not-so-vast plastic-processing power, which was why I found myself driving around the city one dark, cold evening in search of the Holy Grail: a supermarket-operated recycling point. They’re as rare as a 1926 Macallan, but legend has it these bins accept carrier bags as well as bubble wrap and other stretchy plastics. Sadly, I couldn’t find one (only the largest stores offer the service), so I’m now the frustrated carer of a rapidly growing bubble wrap monster living under the kitchen sink.

I’m loath to bin it all and will reuse where the opportunity arises, but for all my eco-considerate efforts (which are far from perfect), I’m struggling. Why should this imposition fall onto us consumers every time we order a bottle online? Surely it is the duty of businesses that are creating this waste in the first place to adopt alternative, environmentally friendly solutions?

It’s not as though the whisky industry is devoid of green initiatives. For the last 10 years Scotch producers have been working to achieve a set of ‘ambitious’ sustainability targets through the Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) Environmental Strategy, and pretty much smashing each and every one. In its 2018 report, the SWA claimed 97 per cent of packaging is ‘reusable or recyclable’.

However, according to recycling charity WRAP, only seven per cent of UK councils accept the kind of plastic used for bubble wrap and airpacks (usually LDPE, the same as carrier bags). It’s not a difficult conclusion to arrive at – yes, all this packaging can be theoretically recycled, but as most of us have no access to a deposit point it’s destined for a giant hole in the ground.

The only real environmentally sustainable solution is to cease the use of plastic packaging. So my non-New Year’s resolution is this: to stop making purchases from retailers that use any form of plastic packaging, recyclable or not. That includes Amazon, yes, but also any online retailer that insists on delivering bottles using airpacks, bubble wrap and polystyrene peanuts. Furthermore, in a step inspired by the inimitable FT drinks writer Alice Lascelles, I will no longer review or cover any drinks brand that delivers samples wrapped in plastic.

Surely it is the duty of businesses that are creating this waste in the first place to adopt alternative, environmentally friendly solutions?


There are now a number of thoughtfully designed cardboard and paper-based solutions to protect our precious whisky cargo, so there really is no excuse. On the most basic level, biodegradable starch peanuts and shredded card do a fantastic job of protecting small bottles. Corrugated cardboard is an effective replacement for bubble wrap.

So as we see in a new year, and a new decade, let’s hope the whisky industry adopts its own resolution to turn the plastic tide.
Maybe 2020 is the year I’ll reclaim my under-sink cupboard from the bubble wrap monster.