Earlier this year, volunteers cleaning the beaches in Cornwall, England, were surprised to find potato chip packages that were at least 20 years old, and were equally surprised that they were in such good condition. According to the BBC, one young Beach Guardian volunteer found her own 1997 birth-year in the “Sell By” date printed on a Walkers potato chip package that she picked up. Another Beach Guardian, a ten-year-old boy, proudly held up a Walkers package that was estimated to be three times as old as he was.
Shortly after photos of the volunteers with their vintage potato chip packages were released, a man named Geraint Ashcroft launched a petition on the 38 Degrees website, urging Walkers to make its package recyclable or more environmentally friendly. “Crisp packets have been found intact after 33 years,” he wrote. “Imagine during that time the effect on wildlife and the environment. At today’s consumption rate in 33 years time there will be 200 billion crisp packets either sent to landfill or polluting our oceans.”
PepsiCo, which owns the Leicester, England-based Walkers, responded quickly—but more or less told everyone to just settle down and be patient. “We already have a pilot of compostable bags in one of our markets and are optimistic we will be able to expand its rollout wider in the future,” a PepsiCo spokesperson told the BBC. “We have committed to 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging across our product portfolio by 2025, and are collaborating with leaders in this space to bring the latest packaging advances to our products."
Putting off the environment for another seven-ish years didn’t sit well with 38 Degrees and its volunteers, so they started encouraging Walkers customers to mail their empty packages back to the company. People have actually started doing that—putting labels directly on those greasy wrappers and dropping them in the mail—and now England’s mail carriers are politely asking everyone to knock it off.
“We strongly encourage customers not to post anything into the postal system which is not properly packaged,” a Royal Mail spokesperson told the BBC. “Crisp packets can't go through the machines, they are not normal mail items therefore my hardworking colleagues need to manually sort them, which adds to time.” (Despite the online support for this protest, the Royal Mail said that it has only had to process about 30 packets so far).
Although one campaigner working on behalf of 38 Degrees said the company would “update the thousands of Walkers's customers who are taking part,” but its website currently just says that it’s “better” to use an envelope, not that Royal Mail has recommended it.
Walkers is Britain’s biggest potato chip brand, and the company currently produces more than 7,000 non-recyclable packages for those chips every single minute. Twitter’s armchair critics have suggested that a more effective way of protesting the company is, uh, just not to buy their chips to start with. “If everyone involved in #packetinwalkers stopped generating empty crisp bags by not buying the product in the first place, wouldn't that be a cleaner protest?” one person wrote. “Plenty of discarded Walkers packets blowing around which could be sent back to the company.”
Come on. Since when are protests supposed to make sense?