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Supermarkets “Should Pay For Consumer Recycling”

Reacting to the statistic that the UK generates around 25 million tonnes of household waste per year, much of which ending up in landfill, a local...

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
Piers Fawkes, PSFK on February 17, 2009. @piers_fawkes

Reacting to the statistic that the UK generates around 25 million tonnes of household waste per year, much of which ending up in landfill, a local government think tank in Britain has put forward an idea that supermarkets should be held responsible for over-packaging the products they sell and therefore have to pay for recycling costs. In a report entitled ‘War On Waste’, the Local Government Association argues that by levying a charge for supermarkets on the the collection of their packaging they will be incentivised to cut back. The BBC reports:

Since the LGA’s first report in October 2007, the amount of food packaging created has decreased on the whole, but the amount recycled has stayed almost exactly the same.

At a time when people are trying to tighten their belts, this excessive packaging is leading to greater use of landfill sites and therefore higher council tax bills, the LGA said. Councils currently pay £32 in landfill tax for every tonne of rubbish they throw into landfill, and this will continue to rise.

Councillor Margaret Eaton, chairman of the LGA, said that less packaging of food would make life easier for the businesses themselves as well as consumers. “If we had less unnecessary packaging it would cut costs and lead to lower prices at the tills. When packaging is sent to landfill, it’s expensive for taxpayers and damaging for the environment. If retailers create unnecessary rubbish, they should help taxpayers by paying for it to be recycled.”

Here’s an interesting if biased retort in the BBC article from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) who argue that packaging is necessary so that we didn’t waste more food:

The BRC’s head of environment Bob Gordon said: “It’s a nonsense to suggest that retailers swathe their goods in masses of unnecessary packaging. This would simply be a pointless cost. Packaging reduces waste by protecting and preserving products.

No mention that a lot of the packaging might be made from the wrong sort of materials or that those cunning marketing people might actually see packaging as something rather different than a preservation tool.

Taking a look at the report, you still can’t help to think that the consumers still need handy hints to help them change their habits to recycle as much of the packaging as possible and avoid products with packaging that ends up in landfill. From details in the report it looks like stores in the UK still have different attitudes towards labeling:

Cookies were packaged in a plastic packet at all retailers, labelled as ‘check local recycling’ by
Morrisons. The packaging at Marks and Spencer additionally used a plastic tray which was made from “50% recycled plastic”. The cornflakes were packaged in a plastic bag in a cardboard box at all retailers but the cardboard box was made from “85% recycled board” at Sainsbury’s, “75% recycled board” at Tesco and “50% recycled paper” at Marks and Spencer. The plastic bag was labelled as “recyclable” at Waitrose, and “recyclable at large stores” at
Sainsbury’s.

What you can take from this, is that there is a move towards a holy grail of 100% recylable packaging in grocery stores. Today, the proportion of waste packaging from a sample of 29 products in 8 large British retailers was that the amount of packaging that was recyclable ranged from 57.8% in Lidl’s basket to 66.8% in the basket from Sainsbury’s.

LGA: War on Waste – Food packaging study

Thinking...