“How do you choose more sustainable packaging?” is common question we hear from householders and businesses. Our Zero Waste Leith team has created a simple checklist to help you make more sustainable choices at home and work. There are lots of packaging options out there and we recommend you look online to find the best option for you. Here are some ideas to get you started. These are suggestions, not endorsements.

Step 1. Waste audit

First make a list of the packaging and products you use in your house, office or business (for both staff and customers). Doing an audit like this of what goes in the bin is a great place to start!

Step 2. Choose your packaging

1. Reusable packaging

Choosing reusable is the best zero waste option, as it reduces waste going to landfill. There’s lots of things you can do – here’s a few to get you started:

  • Reusable coffee cups for staff and customers (these could be customized with your brand, and perhaps even shared across neighbouring businesses)
  • Reusable containers for lunches
  • Metal cutlery and crockery
  • Refillable bottles, jugs or urns of tap water on tables
  • Airtight boxes or waxed cloth wrap to store foods instead of cling film
  • Washable cloths for spills instead of paper rolls e.g. terry cloths, jute
  • Reusable trays e.g. wood/bamboo, melamine, lacquer or plastic
  • Reusable crates for transporting goods e.g. wood, wire or plastic
  • Avoid straws if you can, but if you need one then choose reusable straws e.g. glass, bamboo, steel (invite customers to buy)
  • Buy cleaning products in bulk to refill smaller bottles (and offer this as a service to staff and customers)
  • Invest in cloth or fold-up shopping bags for staff and customers
  • Reusable water bottles when out and about, which could be branded
  • Glass bottles for milk instead of plastic
  • Reusable cool packs made of wool for food and medicine

2. Recyclable packaging

Where it is not possible to use reusable packaging, use packaging that can be recycled. For example:

  • Bottles and drink cups at events made from 100% recyclable PET plastic
  • Padded envelopes made with mashed paper instead of bubble wrap
  • Anti-stick layers for cold things like salami slices - made from recyclable waxed paper
  • Toilet roll wrapped in paper

Check out this disposable coffee cup recycling guide for all the information you need for on-the-go coffee cup schemes.

3. Compostable packaging

Compostable packaging can be a good option for serving food and drinks at large events IF this packaging is collected separately on site to be sent to a suitable commercial composting facility. If you are a business, talk to your waste management contractor or compostable packaging provider to find out if they can collect compostable packaging. In Edinburgh Vegware provide this collection service for their products.

Why a specific collection?

Compostable packaging must be treated via in-vessel composting to break down completely. However, food waste collected in Scotland is largely sent for anaerobic digestion, which is not able to completely break down compostable packaging. If compostable packaging is sent to an anaerobic digestor it is considered a contaminant and has to be sent to landfill, where it releases greenhouse gases.

What can it be used for?

Compostable packaging can be made from many different materials including sugarcane, cornstarch, potato starch, cellulose, paper, card, bamboo, wood and palm leaves. Different materials can affect their sustainability, and are designed to contain different types of food and drink, for example:

  • Sugar cane (or bagasse) is an alternative to polystyrene boxes/containers and plates
  • Paper/card isn’t as strong as sugar cane but is often a cheaper option and can still be used for a variety of purposes
  • Cornstarch (PLA) is largely suited to cold food and drinks and can be made transparent (e.g. for smoothie cups)
  • Cellulose from renewable wood sources is used to make bio-films for packaging food, and can be sent for anaerobic digestion
  • Palm leaf bowls/plates are very strong, sturdy and unique - no two leaves are the same!
  • Hemp or jute provide alternatives to string

 make a range of compostable products including a ‘doggy bag’, made of wood pulp, which cafes and restaurants can try for free by requesting a Good to Go starter pack from Zero Waste Scotland. Good to Go encourages them to give leftover food on the plate to customers in a ‘doggy bag’ to enjoy at home.

4. Recycled packaging

Where it is not possible to reuse or recycle packaging, instead use items that come in recycled packaging. For example:

Wrap up

We hope this guide has been useful in helping you pick the sustainable wheat from the plastic chaff. If you have any questions about how to reduce your waste or where to pass it on to a new home, please check out our Too Good to Waste A-Z guide, or contact our Waste team who will be happy to help, email  or call 0131 555 4010.


Hannah Milne, Changeworks' Zero Waste Leith Co-ordinator 




Hannah Milne is Changeworks' Zero Waste Leith Co-ordinator