Leading Article: Faster progress required

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The Independent Online

Have you noticed the difference on your weekly shop yet? Perhaps your supermarket has started to sell some vegetables loose that were formerly swaddled in plastic.

But progress has been nowhere near as rapid as is necessary. Step into a branch of any major supermarket chain and you will soon find examples of excess packaging. Retailers are still taking the view that it is acceptable to bury items in plastic, cardboard, polystyrene or foil and then expect the customer to dispose of all this junk when they get home. As this newspaper has consistently pointed out, being forced to throw so much away is not simply annoying; it is serving to degrade our environment. Some of this waste is recycled. But the rest ends up in our landfill sites, which are under increasing strain.

It is becoming clear that relying on the good sense of the retailers to reduce the level of waste our society produces is not enough. Legal pressure is necessary if we are to defeat the scourge of excess packaging. That is why the Bill being introduced in the House of Commons today by the Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson that would impose greater penalties on retailers who are failing to reduce their levels of packaging deserves to be supported. MPs should also push for a levy on plastic bags of the sort that has had such a dramatic effect in Ireland.

But the battle against waste is not just something we can devolve to our legislators. This is a challenge to every consumer. The reason retailers and manufacturers have wrapped goods in ever greater amounts of packaging in recent years is because they are under the impression that this is what people want. There is a strong assumption in some quarters of the commercial world that wrapping an item up in packaging makes people more likely to buy it.

Retailers need to be disabused of this notion. Consumers can make clear their dissatisfaction at being forced to dispose of a huge pile of rubbish every time they go shopping by refusing to purchase goods that are excessively packaged, or by leaving the wrapping with the supermarket or retailer to dispose of themselves after purchase.

The Campaign Against Waste must stretch from the benches of the House of Commons to our individual shopping trolleys.