Penalties for companies that break an EU directive banning excessive packaging should be made tougher, the Local Government Association has said.
Many items sold in supermarkets are packaged to retain freshness
Councils say the EU rule has too many loopholes and the maximum fine of £5,000 is not a big enough deterrent.
The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment says trading standards are right to encourage firms to cut packaging rather than going to court.
About 5m tonnes of annual household rubbish is used in packaging.
It makes up almost one-fifth of all household refuse.
There have been just four successful prosecutions since the UK adopted the EU law eight years ago.
They include a butcher whose pre-packed meat was wrapped in two polystyrene trays and an office supplies firm that used large boxes to send very small items.
Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said the law against excessive packaging is a "toothless tiger".
"The fact that there have only been four successful prosecutions in the UK demonstrates the law simply isn't working," he said.
He added: "Local authority trading standards services find their hands tied by regulations which allow retailers to defend excessive packaging claiming it is what the customer wants or that it is required for the purposes of marketing."