Wasteful retailers bury corporate responsibility

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Recycling

In an 18-month government initiative to cut food and packaging
waste, thirteen grocery retailers have pledged to act. But only one
scooped a prize at last week's National Recycling Awards,
highlighting the gulf between intentions and actions.

Lobby groups say that supermarkets have been slow to react to environmental pressure to cut commercial waste, but tough EU landfill legislation has forced the government to bring in a draft of measures to persuade retailers to act responsibly.

The Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a not-for-profit organisation funded by the British government, entices retailers to tap into its £8million (€11.8m) innovation fund to reduce packaging, production and transport costs and encourage corporate social responsibility gains.

So far thirteen retailers have pledged interest in the scheme, including Asda, Sainsburys, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose.

Currently around half of UK household rubbish, which ultimately ends up in landfill, originates from supermarkets and convenience stores says WRAP.

The initiative hopes to reduce household waste by 310,000 tonnes by March 2006 through funding programmes, training workshops and partnerships to help retailers lessen their 'environmental footprint' and minimise waste.

But last week only Marks and Spencer received an award for it's plastic recycling and packaging innovations in the Retail Recycling Initiative category of the National Recycling Awards.

The company joined up with Closed Loop, the London-based recycling experts, following consultations with WRAP earlier this year.

Their six-month waste reduction trial has led to a company-wide rollout of recycled content and fully recyclable food and drink packaging, making Marks and Spencer the first food retailers to extensively use eco-friendly plastic in production and on the shop floor.

Although other companies are following suit, with Boots announcing a national recycled packaging drive for it's Ingredients range, progress is slow, with only ten projects approved by the WRAP innovation fund.

"The food and drink sector produces about seven million tonnes of waste per year, most of which is food waste - making it the biggest manufacturing producer of industrial waste,"​ said an Environment Agency spokesperson.

"And this number is growing by around five per cent per year,"​ she added.

But under EU law, the UK must half the amount of waste going to landfill by 2013. And failure to comply with the regulations could mean fines running at half a million pounds per day for the British government.

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