MPs and retailers rally behind campaign to reduce packaging

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MPs backed The Independent's campaign against excess packaging in the Commons yesterday, as retailers promised to cut back on unnecessary plastic and cardboard. Asda pledged to dump packaging on fresh fruit and vegetables, and Tesco signalled that it will announce a new initiative later this year,

The issue of waste dominated Defra question time. Backbenchers wanted to know why recyclable waste was being exported 6,000 miles to China, where children as young as four who sift through the rubbish are exposed to illness. The problem was highlighted by The Independent on its front page on Friday, as part of its campaign against waste.

John Robertson, Labour MP for Glasgow North West, challenged the Government on the "reports of the 200,000 tonnes of plastic exported to China".

He asked whether the Environment Minister, Ben Bradshaw, who has campaigned against excess packaging, shared the concern about the impact of the dumping on local people.

"What can you do to ensure these people are protected, and that we as a nation look after our own waste and look after it in our own way?" he asked.

In a sign of cross-party agitation, Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, wondered whether the packaging on goods imported from China should be sent straight back there.

"Therefore they may think twice about the quantity of packaging that they put around a lot of the products that they export to the UK," he said.

Mr Bradshaw referred obliquely to the Courtauld Commitment by the big grocery chains to cut packaging by March 2010.

As reported yesterday, Asda is also trialling the removal of plastic trays and bags on most fresh produce. Tesco is poised to make an announcement on packaging this spring.

Mr Bradshaw said: "There are a number of initiatives and measures underway, not least by the retailers themselves, to address the problems of excess packaging."

He told Mr Evans: "What you suggest should happen does actually happen. A significant proportion of our plastic and paper and card packaging which comes from overseas is then re-exported as recyclable material, obviating the need to make new products from virgin materials "

Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat for Dunbartonshire East, called for more packaging to be made of recyclable materials. In a question to the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, she asked: "What steps are you taking to ensure that food producers and particularly large supermarket chains adopt a more responsible approach by reducing excess packaging and, importantly, ensuring that what packaging is necessary is made of recyclable materials?"

Supermarkets had the "first requirement" to reduce packaging, the Cabinet Minister pointed out.

Three hours later, Sainsbury's announced a new timber sourcing policy for its toilet and kitchen tissue. From May, its own-brand tissues, kitchen towel and toilet roll will be made from "sustainable wood fibre".

The supermarket said: "This means 76 million kitchen rolls, 191 million toilet rolls, along with millions of tissues every year, will now be made from either recycled paper, or from material approved by the Forestry Stewardship Council. Both are recognised as the most environmentally responsible."

M&S wrapped over tea cakes

Tim Miles, from Hastings, East Sussex, e-mailed The Independent to complain about Marks & Spencer tea cakes. He said: "M&S sell six tea cakes for 69p which sit individually in a plastic tray (which resemble something you could almost stack video tapes in) before being wrapped in clear plastic. Why on earth can't they simply be packed in a bag?"

Marks & Spencer responded: "We recognise the customer's concerns and we've looked into how we can tackle this in the past. The cakes are packaged like this as they are particularly delicate and the tray we use helps to protect them. We have tested packaging the product without the trays, by placing them straight into the bag, but the cakes became damaged, making them unsaleable.

"However, we will look at how we can improve this further and in the meantime will investigate using more environmentally friendly materials, such as recycled plastic or recyclable cardboard."

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