U.K. Councils, Supermarkets at Odds Over Packaging Review

U.K. Councils, Supermarkets at Odds Over Packaging Review

Along with releasing the results of its third analysis at the weight and recyclability of supermarket packaging, the U.K.'s Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for retailers to help fund recycling efforts to reduce the financial burden of recycling and waste disposal from local governments.

The supermarkets and retail industry are pushing back, saying the latest War on Waste packaging study is flawed, doesn't take into account the food waste that packaging prevents by preserving items and ignores the work that has been done so far to reduce packaging.

The third packaging survey in connection with the LGA's War on Waste campaign looked at 29 common items from eight chain stores (Asda, Co-op, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose), concluding that a little under 40 percent is not recyclable or cannot be easily recycled. The survey was conducted by British Market Research Bureau.

Waitrose's packaging for the 29 items weighed the most, at 1 lb 12 oz, and Lidl had the least amount of recyclable packaging, about 58 percent. Tesco's packaging was the lightest, at 1 lb 7 oz, and Sainsbury's had the most recyclable packaging, with 67 percent of materials easily recyclable. The packaging survey also looked at how well products were labeled as recyclable or containing recycled materials.

The LGA estimates that local councils will spend some $2.6 billion on landfill taxes from 2008-2011. Councils currently pay $46 for every tonne (about 2,200 pounds) of trash they dispose of, a cost that will rise to almost $70 a tonne in 2010. The LGA suggests that supermarkets help pay to expand recycling services to keep recycling costs low and to recycle more materials.

The LGA conducted its first packaging survey in October 2007, and while the weight of packaging has gone down overall, the proportion that is recyclable has stayed about the same.

Retailers, though, took issue with the survey. The British Retail Consortium said the survey fails to point out the benefits of packaging that preserves food, thus preventing food waste and resources that were used to make that food. The group is also pushing for governments to encourage consumers to recycle more instead of making retailers pay more fees.

Paul Kelly, Asda's director of corporate affairs, said that retailers have already paid $2.1 billion over the last decade to improve recycling systems.

The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) said that the U.K. overall uses less packaging per person that many other major European countries, including Germany and France, and that energy use, the resources that go into making food, and food waste are more important issues that recyclability.

INCPEN also said that some 85 percent of packaging is actually recyclable, and that looking at only 29 products is not a fair assessment. The products included potato chips, cereal, baked beans, jam, bread, eggs, sugar, tea bags, fruits and vegetables, milk, cookies, pizza, meats, salmon and other common goods.

Groceries photo CC license by NCinDC