“Stop carping and start collaborating,” was the blunt response from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) to an attack by the Local Government Association (LGA), which declared supermarket packaging added million of pounds to council tax bills that consumers pay to local authorities. BRC environment director Jane Milne said it was a myth that packaging equalled waste, stressing its vital role in preserving food reduces the amount that is thrown away.
Publish packaging figures
The LGA wrote to Environment Minister Hilary Benn after saying the majority of supermarkets refused to reveal how much packing they produce, despite submitting the information to the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). The LGA, which represents over 350 councils, said the information should be published so that shoppers could “see evidence of supermarkets’ claims that they are taking the problem of packaging seriously”.
Of the eight supermarkets contacted, only Marks and Spencer and Waitrose revealed details about how much packaging they produce, said the LGA. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Co-op all referred councils to WRAP, which failed to disclose how much packaging each supermarket produces. Lidl gave no reply at all, added the body.
The LGA called on WRAP to publish, the amount of packaging each supermarket produces every three months so consumers could see the best and worst performers. Council leaders claimed residents’ efforts to recycle more were “being undermined by excessive packaging, which adds to the estimated £1.8bn local authorities will spend on landfill tax between 2008 and 2011”.
Collaboration not criticism
However, the BRC slammed the LGA’s move as a publicity stunt and urged it instead to work more closely with supermarkets to increase further the rates of packaging recycling.
Milne said: "It's time to nail the myth that packaging equals waste. Retailers use the minimum material necessary for packaging to do its vital job of reducing waste by protecting and preserving things we buy.”
She said that supermarkets were working to optimise their use of packaging, adding that joint action under the UK’s Courtauld Agreement halted overall growth in grocery packaging last year, despite an increasing population and more being sold. Publishing packaging data provided by supermarkets to WRAP would only serve to "demonise large retailers who use more packaging because they sell more products", she said.
"The LGA appears to be more interested in publicity than achieving real environmental progress," added the BRC chief. “It would make a better contribution to reducing the amount of packaging going to landfill by meeting us to discuss how we can increase recycling. It should stop carping and start collaborating."