Supermarkets warned over waste packaging
Leading supermarkets are making little progress in increasing their recyclable packaging, a report out today said.
Up to 38 per cent of packaging cannot be recycled, down just 2 per cent from the first report in October last year, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned.
Retailers still have "a lot further to go" if Britain is to hit recycling targets and avoid landfill tax and EU fines, the survey found.
Marks & Spencer and Lidl used the lowest percentage of packaging which could be recycled, at 62 per cent. M&S took the same title last year.
And Lidl was again the worst offender when it came to total volume of packaging used, with a basket of groceries using 813g, up from 799.5g last year.
M&S used the second-highest total amount of packaging at 807g for a basket, while Sainsbury's used the third-highest amount by weight at 746g.
Environment Minister Joan Ruddock said: "We announced higher recycling targets for the UK in February and we have an existing agreement with retailers to end the growth in packaging waste this year. I will continue to keep these targets under review.
"Producers' obligations have already increased packaging recovery from just 27 per cent in 1998 to 59 per cent last year."
A Defra spokesman added: "Individual local authorities have the responsibility to determine the recycling solutions that best suit their communities.
"Five local authorities will next year be undertaking pilot schemes to create incentives for recycling. We will evaluate the impact of those pilots before making a final decision on whether other local authorities can introduce similar schemes."
The findings were based on analysis of packaging used for a basket of 29 common grocery items bought from Asda, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco, a local retailer and a market.
Asda's packaging weighed the least among the major supermarkets at 646g, 69 per cent of which was recyclable.
The local market used the least weighty packaging (617g) and the highest amount that could be recycled at 76 per cent.
Sainsbury's was the supermarket with the highest proportion of recyclable packaging, at 70 per cent.
Asda used 69 per cent recyclable packaging followed by Morrisons at 67 per cent and Tesco at 65 per cent.
LGA environment board chairman Cllr Paul Bettison said: "The days of the cling-film coconut must come to an end. We all have a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste being thrown into landfill, which is damaging the environment and contributing to climate change.
"Families will be pleased to see that more packaging in their shopping baskets can now be recycled. However, this survey shows there is still a lot further to go.
"Reducing packaging is vital if we are to avoid paying more landfill tax and EU fines, which could lead to cuts in frontline services and increases in council tax."
Recycling rates had increased to 33 per cent in England but this figure had to increase, the report said.
Councils pay £32 in tax for every tonne of rubbish that is sent to landfill, which will increase to £48 a tonne by 2010.
From 2010 councils also face EU fines of £150 for every tonne that is dumped, which could cost an estimated £200 million by 2013.
The LGA is calling on the Government to make retailers and producers responsible for paying for the collection of packaging as an incentive to cut back.
Cllr Bettison said: "Some packaging is often needed, particularly to prevent food becoming spoilt and then ending up in landfill sites. Many retailers are also taking some very positive environmental initiatives, such as Marks & Spencer agreeing to work with councils to part-fund a recycling plant in East London.
"The LGA is in very constructive discussions with some of the leading supermarkets, and we hope this dialogue will lead to further steps in the direction of reducing packaging.
"Many countries on the continent operate a system where retailers contribute towards household collection and recycling services. This acts as an incentive for them not to produce excessive packaging in the first place.
"Government urgently needs to change its approach so retailers are incentivised to minimise unnecessary packaging and support maximum recycling."
The research was carried out for the LGA by the British Market Research Bureau.
Researchers bought items representing a regular shopping basket from the eight retailers, then recorded the total weight of the products and total weight of packaging.
The component parts of the packaging were weighed separately to measure the proportion of recyclable material and of rubbish.
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Steve Webb said: "Consumers are told to sort and cut down on their household waste only to come back from the supermarket with mounds of unnecessary packaging which cannot be recycled.
"This survey shows how much further we still have to go to eliminate unnecessary waste and make sure that all packaging is recyclable.
"While markets and local stores are performing far better on reducing waste packaging, the supermarket giants are lagging behind.
"It is time that the supermarkets used their huge market power with their suppliers to demand dramatic improvements in cutting out unnecessary packaging and increasing the proportion that can be recycled."
Dr Helene Roberts, head of food packaging at Marks & Spencer, said: "We're really disappointed with the report, which does not reflect reality. From our independently audited data we know that 91 per cent of our food packaging is recyclable. By 2012 we want to reach 100 per cent.
"The LGA has chosen to only look at a skewed sample of 29 products out of our 5,500 lines, which are not representative. The real issue at the moment is the inconsistency in recycling facilities across the UK.
"We all have a part to play in tackling packaging - retailers, manufacturers, local and national government, as well as consumers. However, further improvements to recycling across the UK are limited by the current facilities provided by local authorities, which is why we've been working closely with the LGA, as referred to in the report, to help create a more consistent approach to recycling across the UK."
British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said: "This research only sampled 29 products out of the thousands retailers sell, yet it concluded retailers reduced packaging by 5 per cent in just seven months - a significant achievement.
"But the LGA is right to recognise packaging plays a key part in reducing waste by preventing food deteriorating and goods being damaged. The environmental cost of wasted food is much greater than the packaging used to stop that waste.
"The report takes a very simplistic view of environmental management as packaging cannot simply be defined as recyclable or not recyclable, because this differs from one area to another depending on the policies and facilities of each local authority.
"Stores are rewarding and encouraging recycling. They are offering a variety of recycling facilities where practical. The LGA's own figures show this approach is contributing to increasing recycling rates.
"Retailers are contributing millions of pounds a year to help support Government-approved recycling schemes. Retailers are giving local authorities £10 million to upgrade sites for collecting waste electricals and they pay £4.5 billion a year in business rates towards local authority funding.
"Rather than looking for new ways to tap retailers and, in turn, hard-pressed customers for extra cash, local authorities would make a more positive contribution by developing their recycling facilities and increasing and standardising the range of materials they will accept for recycling."
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