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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Firms told to cut packaging waste
Supermarket shelves (BBC)
Ready meals are adding to the amount of waste from packaging
UK supermarkets and the food industry need to cut the amount of packaging on their products because most of it is ending up in landfills, a report says.

A study by the Environment Agency said leading companies in the food and drink sector needed to do more to reduce the amount people threw away or recycled.

The watchdog said British households were producing 4.6 million tonnes of packaging waste each year.

The findings were published in its annual report on business performance.

'Could do better'

The EA's acting chief executive, Paul Leinster, said: "If you opened up an ordinary household bin bag, you would find most of its contents would include packaging and products from some of the biggest names in the world of food and drink."

He said although there had been an increase in recycling rates, the amount of overall waste was still growing.

"That's why we are asking the food and drink industry to look at the amount of packaging and waste they create because they are key to how much rubbish we all produce," Mr Leinster added.

But the agency's annual Spotlight report on the environmental performances of businesses in England and Wales did praise the efforts of some leading brands.

Manufacturers are working hard to minimise the amount of packaging used without compromising essential protective and preservative functions
Melanie Leech, Food and Drink Federation
It said supermarket Sainsbury's last year managed to reduce the amount of packaging waste on its own-brand Easter eggs by 40%.

And Coca Cola's Milton Keynes plant had invested 100,000 to cut the amount of waste ending up in landfill sites.

Food and Drink Federation director general, Melanie Leech, said she was not surprised that packaging made up the majority of waste.

"We are after all eating every day and consuming more convenience foods," she said. "However, manufacturers are working hard to minimise the amount of packaging used without compromising essential protective and preservative functions."

Jane Bickerstaffe, director of the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (Incpen), said she was surprised the agency had decided to highlight the sector.

"The packaging supply chain companies are probably more aware than many other industries because we have been the focus of so many environmental campaigns.

"One of the effects of that... is even though people buy far more goods today, the actual amount of packaging per item has been going down," she said. "The vast majority of the weekly shop is, we believe, sensibly packed."

Mrs Bickerstaffe added that the actual weight of total packaging had not increased: "For example, when yoghurt pots first came on to the market they weighed 12g; today, they are 3g.

"If you can make 10 cans out of 1kg of material rather than five, it is good. It is a win-win situation environmentally and economically."

As well as the measures the industry was taking itself, there were several pieces of legislation that regulated the environmental aspects of packaging, Mrs Bickerstaffe said.

For some of the other sectors featured in the report, the findings included:

  • Chemical: responsible for just 2% of all serious pollution incidents, and recycled or reused 17% of its waste
  • Construction: about 60,000 flytipping incidents involved construction-related waste
  • Farming: number of serious pollution incidents fell by 10% to 130
  • Fuel and power: responsible for more than eight million tonnes of waste, but managed to reuse or recycle 67% of it
The report concluded that better environmental performances could save businesses billions of pounds. It said cutting waste could save 3bn, while energy efficiency measures would result in a further 1.8bn saving.

Graph showing recycling of packaging in the UK (BBC)

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