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Supermarkets still using too much packaging, says survey

By Rory Harrington , 01-Jul-2009

UK supermarkets are using too much plastic packaging for food products and both retailers and packing manufacturers could do more, a new survey has concluded.

The review, carried out by UK consumer magazine Which?, found that 94 per cent of respondents thought there was too much food packaging and almost one third had refused to buy an item because of the amount of packing it contained.

 

Big differences

 

The study compared the amount of packaging used in 27 everyday items bought from six major supermarkets; Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. The average total for the items came to 636g of plastic or carton. Fourteen of the items had the same weight or volume – averaging 392g.

 

There were some big differences between the amount of material used by different companies, said Which? – with Marks and Spencer’s 415g cited as the highest. Its ice-cream carton - 46 per cent heavier than Sainsbury’s - was one reason for this, while its mushroom carton weighed 27 percent more than the lightest examples from Asda and Waitrose. Its bacon packet was 40 per cent heavier than Sainsbury’s version.

 

M&S defends record

 

The research findings come in spite of a high-profile green packaging drive by Marks and Spencer. Last month, the retailer announced it was making “strong progress” on its Eco Plan, citing an 83 per cent reduction in the use of plastic bags from 464 million to 77 million in just 12 months as one example.

 

The company yesterday strongly defended its environment-friendly packaging credentials, saying: “The weight of the 14 items doesn’t indicate recyclability or recycled content. We use as much recycled content as possible – which can make our plastic packaging weigh more but means it’s more environmentally sustainable.”

 

It added that 80 per cent of its clear plastic had recycled content and that the ice cream tub weighed more due to inclusion of tamper evidence to ensure food quality and safety. The carton is also made from polypropylene, said M&S, which is heavier but has a “greater potential to be easily recyclable”. The company said it was working on introducing recycled plastics for bacon and mushrooms, packets.

 

Asda said it had removed 40,000 tonnes of packaging from its ranges, while Sainsbury’s said most of its packing was now recyclable. Packaging had been reduced by a third since 2001, said Waitrose, with Tesco adding it had 3,500 packaging reduction projects currently in progress.

 

More progress needed

 

But Which? concluded: “We found big differences in plastic packaging weight for the items we bought and our members’ opinion is that there is too much food packaging.

“Supermarkets say they’re reducing unnecessary packaging but they and manufacturers can do more. They should also continue to increase the recycled content. Cutting out excess packaging will cut costs for them and for councils, savings they could pass on to customers, while helping the environment.”