Supermarkets discover shoppers hate excess packaging as waste campaign gathers force

Supermarkets have detected considerable annoyance among their customers about excessive packaging, as The Independent's campaign against waste gathers support from politicians and stores.

Research by three of the country's biggest chains, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's, has found people are irritated at having to throw away so much plastic and cardboard after a shopping trip.

Speaking on packaging, Tesco said a concern for the environment had come through loud and clear in polling. "The thing that emerges from the research is that our customers say: 'Yes, we would like to do more if we can. Just help us to do more'," a spokesman said.

Sainsbury's has passed The Independent an internet survey of 1,922 customers in November which found widespread opposition to packaging. Some 77 per cent said they were trying to reduce food and packaging waste.

Shoppers were asked to respond to the statement: "I have actively tried to reduce the amount of household waste (from food and packaging) we produce in the last year." Some 33 per cent strongly agreed and 44 per cent agreed slightly that they were taking action. In another question, respondents were asked whether they made sure their products and packaging were environmentally friendly and could be recycled or composted. A majority, 57 per cent, agreed they did so. Twenty per cent of consumers said they had decided not to buy something at all because it was difficult to discard.

Women were slightly more likely than men to be cutting down on packaging while people living in the South-west were the most concerned about the environment. The Independent's Campaign Against Waste has been wide-ranging - and successful. We have highlighted the absurdity of over-packaged goods, exemplified by the shrink-wrapped swede we found on sale in Morrison's. A front page questioned why everyday goods, from toothpaste to carrots, are swathed in plastic or cardboard destined for landfill. We showed how other European states were cutting waste: the Belgian deposit scheme for plastic and glass bottles; the in-store recycling bins in Germany; and the habit of Greeks of buying olive oil in large cans rather than small bottles. Our coverage of the thousands of tonnes of British waste shipped 6,000 miles to China was raised in the Commons. At Defra question time on Thursday, MPs demanded to know from the Government why so much waste was being taken somewhere it caused illness and pollution among under-protected workers.

MPs also wanted to know what pressure was being applied to the grocery chains to take action.

Meanwhile hundreds of Independent readers have sent us examples of over-packaged products, which we have featured daily. At the last count, the tally of e-mails in the two weeks of the campaign stood at 1,215.

In their attempt to become greener, stores have announced action on packaging. In the starkest example, Asda, Britain's third biggest supermarket, said it wanted to do away with almost all packaging on fresh fruit and vegetables. Plastic will be removed from 60 lines of fresh produce such as swedes, broccoli, carrots and mushrooms at two stores in the North-west in a trial. Only perishable items such as strawberries will remain in punnets.

Tesco, the biggest supermarket, is planning a move in the next few months. Writing in The Independent, its chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, said the company was approaching the problem of packaging. "The solutions will not be easy, and some may take time," he wrote. "But we have started a conversation with our customers through our community plan, and we know they want us to help them to do more. And so we will."

Attacks on snacks

* Claire Symonds e-mailed to ask: "Why do Walkers only ever half fill their bags of crisps."

Responding, Walkers said: "It is essential that all of the crisps go straight to the bottom of the bag when they are being packed so that nothing interferes with the seal. To ensure this happens the bag must be a certain size. If a crisp were to catch in the seal, the bag would not close properly."

* Reader Pete Ruddick raised an example of unnecessary packaging he found in Tesco on Aigburth Road, Liverpool, this week - a pack of three Galaxy chocolate eggs. "They were in a plastic pack but each egg was also individually wrapped," Mr Ruddick said. "There is absolutely no need for health reasons to wrap these individually, so why do it? The packaging for all three eggs is almost certainly as much as is used to wrap the whole pack." We put his complaint to Masterfoods, makers of Galaxy. It said it "constantly evaluated" the environmental impact of packaging and used 65 per cent recycled paper. It maintained it was right to wrap the eggs individually inside their plastic pack. "This encourages sharing, portion control and discourages over-consumption," a spokesman said.

Do you have an example of absurd packaging. If so tell us and we will highlight it. Please send your tales of woe to: