Disposal has 'shifted to consumers'

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The Independent Online

Supermarkets have cut their costs by having consumers throw away their rubbish, a director of one of Britain's leading waste disposal firms has said.

The mounds of cardboard boxes that used to pile up behind superstores have disappeared after supermarkets moved to reduce their waste disposal bills.

The stores have sought to replace the delivery of large boxes of goods with "shelf-ready" displays of individually packaged products. In other words, say critics, responsibility for waste disposal has shifted from the supermarket to the consumer. As a result, the supermarket chains are now being spared a huge bill for waste collection, while domestic waste bins are so full of packaging that local councils are considering charging householders for emptying them.

Peter Jones, the director of external relations for the High Wycombe-based firm Biffa Waste Services, told MPs yesterday that there was no "big bang" solution to the crisis facing Britain as the country runs out of sites to dump rubbish.

Giving evidence to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Mr Jones said the industry was ready to invest £10bn in new technology, but predicted that councils could be "overwhelmed" by the problems of finding ways to dispose of waste.

He said: "If you look at the campaign on packaging being waged by The Independent at the moment, you see that there are other methods. You don't need to go down the 'big bang' road. You can think in terms of more flexible systems."

Britain has been ordered by the EU to reduce the volume of rubbish buried in landfill sites to just over a third of the 1995 level. Mr Jones claimed that the scale of the reduction will mean that local authorities are going to have find new sites for incinerators or recycling plants equivalent to one tenth of the size of Birmingham. He said after the hearing: "We in our industry are not making judgements about how this should be done. We're the butt end of the economy. But we do need to make some rational decisions about the kit we are going to need in future.

"We have to deal with shifting trends in the past few years. One of those is that the supermarkets have been packaging goods at the warehouse so that they can be put straight from the container on to the shelf. This has meant less waste on the commercial side, but has put more packaging into their consumers' bins.

"The effect of a campaign like the one The Independent is running is that it makes the public more aware of what is going on. If consumers have less packaging to throw away, the carbon impact should be beneficial, but if they go back to packing goods in cardboard boxes, you will have the piles of cardboard boxes at the back of the supermarket again, and if they don't package it at all, you'll have more goods damaged in transit."

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