Leading article: Every little helps

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The Independent Online

This newspaper's campaign against excess packaging has prompted a response from one of the largest retailers in the world. According to Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive of Tesco, it is impossible to "force the pace of change, even if it is for sound environmental reasons. Customers have to want to change, and that can take time." He goes on to cite an instance where Tesco dispensed with the cardboard sleeve wrapping on a ready meal in its Value range. Customers apparently liked the product but hated the packaging, and opted instead for products that retained a cardboard sleeve.

While we welcome Sir Terry's involvement in the debate - and he does accept the thrust of The Independent's campaign - his emphasis here seems misplaced. It is, indeed, important to change the attitudes of consumers towards packaging. But the far larger battle is to change the practices of producers, Tesco among them.

The statistics cited by Sir Terry of Tesco's record in cutting down waste packaging relate to its own operations, not the products on the shelves. As the evidence of Peter Jones, the director of one of Britain's leading waste disposal firms, to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee last week shows, supermarket "shelf-ready" packaging is shifting the burden of disposing of packaging to consumers. Tesco has pioneered the use of shelf-ready packaging.

The Tesco slogan, "Every little helps", makes sense when it comes to providing customers with value for money. But, when applied to packaging, the reality is that less is more.