Dacorum Environmental Forum’s anti-packaging campaign

Responses from Packaging Letter to Stores Managers

Presented by DEF vice-chairman Gruff Edwards to the Forum meeting at the Civic Centre on Thursday July 10th.

Gruff Edwards reported  to the Forum on the responses received from managers of local supermarket and from the company head offices, in response to a joint letter sent in May from Dacorum Borough Council and the Dacorum Environmental Forum .

The letter had been a call  to help protect both the global and the local environment by reducing the amount of packaging waste, and in particular non-recyclable waste that is currently either collected within the Borough or spread around it as litter.

Quoting Government reports, Gruff Edwards said “waste from packaging of household goods rose from 5.8 million tonnes in 2004/05 to 6.8 million tonnes in 2005/06. Most of this ends up in landfill, where the biodegradable part generates methane (a potent greenhouse gas)  and the valuable energy is used in extracting and processing new raw materials is wasted.” He added “Packaging waste also contributes disproportionately to the litter problems that we all experience daily. It represents an uncaring attitude to the value of wasted raw materials by all involved in manufacturing and retailing as well as by careless consumers. The cost of  litter clearance is borne largely and unfairly by the Borough Council, and ultimately by its taxpayers.”

The supermarkets (Iceland, Sainsbuy’s,Tesco, ASDA, Waitrose, M&S) had also been invited to  field one of their company’s packaging specialists to come and address one of the Forum's  meetings - with relevant Councillors in attendance.

To date, only Sainsbury’s, Tesco and John Lewis (Waitrose) had replied, and of these only Tesco had accepted the invitation to attend a Forum meeting.

Sainsbury’s said that they were committed to 5% reduction in packaging by 2010. They were using  14% less packaging on prepared salads than in Jan 07,  thereby saving  20.8 tonnes of plastic plastic per annum, and were in the process of reducing  the packaging on crisps, snacks & nuts by 20%, which would save  85 tonnes per annum. They also claimed to be the first supermarket to introduce recycling information on packaging.

John Lewis (Waitrose) responded that they were committed to help the Government-funded Waste Resources and Action program (WRAP) to research new materials and eliminate growth in packaging by 2008, and to have reduced packaging relative to sales by 36% between 2000 and 2007. 50% of their organics line now came now  in biodegadable packaging. They were introducing milk “pouches”, which use 75% less plastic than bottles. These were currently available in 17 London branches, and there were  plans to extend the scheme nationally, which would potentially save save 10 thousand tonnes  of plastic per annum.

Tesco’s response highlighted their efforts to reduce “store waste” and re-use “transit trays”, rather than the packaging that leaves the store with the purchases. Their cardboard was recycled in a closed loop system, and they claimed to be the largest cardboard recycler in UK. Their  reusable transit trays saved 130,000 tonnes of cardboard per annum.

Gruff Edwards commented “these responses show that the large supermarkets are aware of public concerns over packaging, although the quantities of saving they quote are pretty small compared with the total tonnage of packaging waste (seven million tonnes per annum). Another sign of this awareness is that nearly all the chains now offer “bags for life” and encourage customers to use them instead of taking new free plastic shopping bag, as used to be the case. We welcome the responses, and in particular Tesco’s willingness to come and address the Forum.”

Questions to Gruff Edwards.

GWE                                                                           7/7/08