But the packaging is not necessarily evil, as veterans of the industry point out in a new book. In Why Shrink-wrap a Cucumber?
The Complete Guide to Environmental Packaging, Stephen Aldridge and Laurel Miller unpack various myths to show how, done well, packaging can please the planet as much as it can producers, retailers and consumers.
"People have an awful lot of preconceptions about packaging," Aldridge says."Everyone also wants to do the right thing, environmentally, but sometimes that's not for the best."
Aldridge accepts that there are too many egregious cases of over-packaging as manufacturers compete to"shelf-shout" the loudest."In the Sixties, toys came in a box with a picture on the front," he says.
"Now you get massive Easter egg-style boxes with huge vacuum-formed domes and unnecessary layers of cardboard. There's no excuse for it."
But the designer and consultant, who has advised dozens of top brands, adds:"An environmental view should always be at the core of a design project rather than a box to tick."
While the more we strive to use less packaging, Aldridge says, its greenness or otherwise isn't always as clear as polyethene...
Wrap star…that's the plastic used to sheath cucumbers. The miles of plastic used in the process might seem unnecessary, and have been the subject of well-meaning anti-packaging campaigns (if an apple or a potato can go naked, why not a cucumber?).
But research shows that a wrapped cucumber lasts more than three times as long as an unwrapped one. It will also lose just 1.5 per cent of its weight through evaporation after 14 days, compared with 3.5 per cent in just three days for an exposed cucumber.
A longer life, Aldridge writes, means less frequent deliveries, with all their consequent energy costs, and, crucially, less waste. Globally, we throw out as much as 50 per cent of food, often when it perishes. It typically goes to landfill and gives off methane, a greenhouse gas.
"The cucumber example is significant because it demonstrates that how consumers perceive materials is important in environmental retailing,"