How Much Packaging Do We Really Need?
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network
A headline grabbing report from the Local Government Association (LGA), claiming that up to 40 percent of packaging used by supermarkets cannot be recycled, has provoked vociferous explanations and defense from both the British and European organizations representing packaging manufacturers.
Paul Bettison, speaking for the LGA, described many products as “needlessly overpackaged.” The report concluded that an average shopping trip produces so much rubbish that the British Government may miss European recycling targets.
Immediate response came from EUROPEN (the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment), UK-based non-profit organization INCPEN (Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) and the British Retail Consortium.
EUROPEN, a Belgium-based industry and trade association dedicated to exploring issues around packaging and the environment, said that “successful packaging policies will be those which are environmentally, economically and scientifically sound, as well as socially and politically acceptable.”
In a statement about the LGA report to FoodProductionDaily.com, EUROPEN said that food waste levels are “shocking but no-one is doing more to reduce them than the packaging industry… Good packaging helps prevent this by keeping food fresh for longer and by helping us buy food in portion sizes that suit our needs.”
Using recycled content also means the packaging needs to be heavier to do the same job, the statement pointed out. “Perhaps surprisingly, some packaging has to weigh more than its contents or it couldn’t do its job. For example champagne needs to be packed in a bottle that is 95 per cent of the total weight or it would not survive the journey from the vineyard to home, or contain bubbles.”
They also claimed that under-packaging is “ten times worse” than over-packaging. “Supermarkets and their suppliers are reducing packaging but, more importantly they are making sure they use enough packaging to help stop food waste which is a much bigger problem.”
Jane Bickerstaffe, director of INCPEN, added that all the energy and materials involved in manufacture is lost if products are damaged or spoiled due to inadequate packaging. “The whole point of packaging is to make sure the food is safe and wholesome all the way through to when it’s consumed… It would have been helpful if the survey had explained that far from being ‘rubbish’ the packaging saved far more waste than it generated.”
In addition, Richard Dodd, head of media and campaigns for the British Retail Consortium, called the LGA’s figures “spurious” because materials recycled are not standardized with different materials collected by each local authority.
Discussion questions: Are there downsides to the packaging reduction movement that have not been fully considered? Are there any practical solutions to this dilemma? What impediments currently stand in the way of a greater percentage of products being recycled in the U.S.?
- EUROPEN (The European Organization for Packaging and the Environment) – EUROPEN
- INCPEN (Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) – INCPEN
- Europen hits back at recycling claims – Food and Drink Europe
- Supermarkets ‘foil recycling’ – The Times
- National supermarkets criticized over failure to cut levels of packaging – The Independent