Compost heap could help in the war on waste

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The Independent Online

Shoppers are being encouraged to solve the problem of excess packaging by taking direct action and dumping trays and wrappers in their gardens.

Supporters of The Independent's campaign against waste say compostable packaging helps the environment by using plants such as corn rather than scarce resources such as oil, and returns the goodness to the soil.

Sainsbury's is introducing biodegradable packaging on most of its organic fresh produce and all its own-brand ready meals by the end of the year. These "plastic" trays will be made from maize and starch and will break down in an ordinary compost heap.

Marks & Spencer has introduced clear envelopes made from corn on its sandwiches and has sold 132 million packs. Tesco has replaced its carrier bags with a degradable version.

A company called Belu has introduced the UK's first compostable water bottle, but while manufacturers and retailers claim many waste problems will be solved by such bio-polymers, not everyone is convinced. Ben Bradshaw, the Environment minister, fears composting could be a diversion to the main emphasis of the campaign - to reduce waste at the outset.

There are problems. Bottles such as Belu's are intended for commercial composting but facilities for this are scarce. If put out for recycling, the bottles will contaminate the waste stream. They do not break down satisfactorily in landfill.

Asda has decided not to go down the biodegradable route and has ditched plans to have compostable packs on its organic products by March. A spokesman said: "As it stands, the vast majority of people in the UK do not have home composters, therefore they will have to dispose of compostable packaging by putting it in their normal bin.

"When the compostable packaging ends up in landfill it doesn't break down easily as the conditions aren't right, and when it does break down it gives off methane. If it enters a recycling waste stream it contaminates all the other materials, causing a real headache for local authorities."

Michael Warhurst, the senior waste campaigner at Friends of the Earth, applauded the compostable products from Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer but felt Belu's bottle was impractical. He was also wary of Tesco's carrier bags. "What do you do with these bags?," he said. "They're not for recycling, they're not for composting." But he was optimistic about plant-made packaging that disappears. "Ultimately it's clear that composting is part of the solution, along with recyclables, but the transition is problematic" he said.

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's, Europe's largest user of compostable material, said: "For us, compostable does play a big role in packaging. If it isn't plastic and doesn't end up in landfill, then it can only be a good thing."

* The Independent's campaign was backed by MPs from all parties yesterday in a Commons motion demanding action by supermarkets and suppliers to end "excessive" packaging. The motion, tabled by the Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, is evidence of growing political support for the campaign.

The cup that didn't cheer

Judging by The Independent's Campaign Against Waste, the cup that cheers leaves many with a bitter taste in their mouths. Ben Bradshaw, the Environment Minister, took issue with Jacksons of Piccadilly tea bags when he railed against excess packaging at a summit with grocery chains last year. Now Rachel Simon, an Independent reader, has singled out the firm's green tea in an email to our campaign: "Plastic encases a cardboard box which in turn contains all the tea bags individually wrapped. "

We put her complaint to Jacksons of Piccadilly, but alas, like its teabags, the lips of the company were excessively sealed.

Have you been needled by ridiculous packaging? Name and shame the product and we will put your complaint to the manufacturer. Email: