Category Overpackaging

Overpackaging is the perfect example of bad design and illustrates our society’s failure to use our resources sustainably. Although packaging can sometimes have a useful role in product preservation, current overpackaging practices are increasingly driven by marketing and branding needs rather than product durability.

Here are three iconic examples of overpackaging. Which is the most ridiculous? Zero Waste Europe commits to influence European policy in order to put a limit to this wasteful practice.

Nominated products

805 votes

Plastic food packaging

Plastic food packaging accounts for 40% of the annual 49 million tonnes of plastic consumed in Europe, making it the most common use of plastic. Much of this plastic packaging is neither reusable nor recyclable, and it contains many chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, linked to diseases such as cancer and infertility.

Bad design of plastic packaging contributes to the loss of EUR 75-112 billion of plastic packaging material from the economy every year, equivalent to the GDPs of Slovakia and Hungary combined.


Zero Waste Europe published a report highlighting how plastic packaging is failing to reduce food waste. In some cases, it may even fuel food waste, while simultaneously adding to the vast quantities of unrecyclable plastic waste polluting our environment.

Packaging-free shops are becoming more popular in many cities across Europe, with increasing numbers of retailers phasing-out plastic packaging and selling products in bulk. In France, for example, packaging-free producers, manufacturers, distributors and shops have joined forces to create the network Réseau Vrac to promote and develop bulk sales. Curious to learn more about their work? Listen to this podcast with Réseau Vrac’s director Célia Rennesson (in French).

68 votes

Online packaging

As online shopping grows, so too does packaging waste. This sector is well-known for its so-called “Russian doll” practice, where a pre-boxed item comes inside a second or even a third box. Although figures for online shopping packaging waste are not available in the EU, packaging waste is of the magnitude of 166.3 kg per person, with cardboard and paper being the main packaging waste material in the region (34.8 million tonnes in 2015). As online shopping continues to expand, this will only grow.


Some companies are seeking alternatives to wasteful packaging practices. One example is Repack, which offers a reusable packaging system for online shopping. Made out of durable and recycled materials, and designed to last at least 20 cycles, Repack’s reusable packaging can help to reduce both waste and greenhouse gasses.

[Photo credits for product picture: Tom BullockCC BY-NC 2.0, no alterations were made]

120 votes


Styrofoam might be a light material but it plays a heavyweight role in poorly designed products. The term styrofoam is used to refer to expanded polystyrene foam or EPS, which is made into cups, plates, takeaway food containers and packing materials. Styrofoam cannot be economically recycled, and, when littered, it breaks down into microplastics, which pollute the environment and end up entering our food chain. Most worryingly, a recent UN report states that styrofoam contains styrene and benzene, both considered carcinogenic and harmful to human nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, as well as to the kidneys and liver.



Luckily, sustainable alternatives are already available. Styrofoam can easily be replaced by reusable and refillable containers for takeaway food, while, for other packaging applications, it can be replaced by more sustainable materials, such as cardboard and mycelium.  

Reusable alternatives also provide an opportunity for new, sustainable business to flourish. One such example is Recircle, the Swiss startup that launched a return scheme. Its 70,000 reusable meal boxes allow consumers to enjoy takeaway food without creating any waste. In less than two years, more than 400 restaurants in the biggest Swiss cities have joined the scheme and adopted Recircle’s reusable food containers. Recircle found a winning solution that prevents waste and saves money for citizens, restaurants and cities. Read the Recircle story here.