Terry Leahy: Don't blame us: we can't get rid of all packaging

You can't force the pace of change, even for sound environmental reasons

Share

When I recently announced a range of far-reaching measures designed to cut Tesco's carbon footprint and give customers the information they need to do the same, I said I'd be returning to other environmental topics in the near future. One of these, packaging and packaging waste, has recently been the subject of lively media debate.

We all know there is too much packaging getting into landfill. And if the environmental reasons to cut back on this weren't compelling enough, there are very sound commercial reasons, too - we spend something like £600m each year on packaging.

Of course, the supermarkets have an important role to play in cutting out the waste they generate themselves, and at Tesco we're constantly working to improve our performance here. But if we are to make real progress in shrinking the waste mountain, we must also help shift consumer attitudes towards packaging itself. We need to ask: what is it for, and what are the consequences of taking it away?

Packaging has a variety of functions - it must protect the product from damage from the factory or farm to the customer's home. It must display a wide range of product information, from lists of ingredients and nutritional data to serving suggestions or assembly instructions. And, especially in the case of food packaging, it must help us meet the exacting demands on food quality and safety that are rightly imposed on us by the authorities and the customer.

So not all packaging is "excess" or optional, and the truth is that the benefits of smart, efficient packaging in reducing waste have been finding their way back to customers for years. In China, it has been estimated that one fifth of the food moving through the supply chain goes to waste. In the UK, by contrast, only a tiny amount - less than 2 per cent - is lost in the supply chain. Here, intelligent packaging actually reduces the amount of food waste going to landfill.

The food and retail industries have massively reduced the amount of packaging they use. We actively promote recycling among our customers, as well as trying to practise what we preach - 72 per cent of the waste generated in-store at Tesco is recycled.

We must always work hand in hand with our customers on these issues. Last August, I announced that we would be awarding Green Clubcard Points to those customers who reuse bags of any sort when they shop at Tesco. This scheme has been a fantastic success. To date, we have given out something like 300 million fewer carrier bags as customers choose to reuse.

It shows that if you explain carefully why it is important to reduce waste, and make it convenient, easy and attractive for the customer, the impact can be huge. The environment benefits and customers are happier too.

But you can't force the pace of change, even if it is for sound environmental reasons. Customers have to want to change, and that can take time. A while ago we tried to dispense with the cardboard sleeve that wrapped some of the ready meals in our Value range. Instead, we printed the ingredients and serving instructions on the plastic film that covers the tray. Customers liked the product, but hated the packaging, and took their money back to products with a cardboard sleeve.

As I said in my recent speech on climate change, customers want to do more on the environment. But they want more information so they can be confident they are doing the right thing, and they want to know that their actions will genuinely make a difference, and won't cost them more.

Our plan on climate change tackles each of these points - in particular by making green choices more affordable and by promising that we will set out on the road to a single measure of the carbon footprint of each product we sell.

We must now approach packaging in similar way. As I have explained, there are dilemmas to be solved. The solutions will not be easy, and some may take time. But we have started a conversation with our customers on these issues through our Community Plan, and we know they want us to help them to do more. And so we will.

There is at least one choice that is simple for Tesco. As we work to reduce our environmental impact on every level, we will continue to look for ways to cut excess packaging and offer our customers rational choices. We will continue to offer quality and value, and above all we will continue to respond to what our customers ask of us.

And perhaps this will prove to be the most empowering choice of all.

The writer is chief executive of Tesco

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate