Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Recycling Blame

It can't have escaped people's attention that recycling has hit the news again, this time with a Food Packaging Study from the Local Government Association, as part of its "War on Waste" campaign.

For anyone with an interest in waste minimisation this should be a real welcome report as it pays particular attention to the weight of food packaging that can be found in a typical shopping basket across eight supermarkets.

The survey revealed the following results:

  • Waitrose had the heaviest packaging (802.5 grams)
  • Lidl had the lowest level of packaging that could be easily recycled (58 per cent)
  • Tesco had the lightest (645.5 grams)
  • Sainsbury’s had the highest level of packaging that could be easily recycled (67 per cent).

While council leaders acknowledge that people are recycling more rubbish, they are also concerned that efforts are being held back by supermarkets. The LGA argues that supermarkets should pay a contribution towards recycling services so that more packaging can be recycled at an affordable price which will help keep council tax down.

Of course it will be no surprise that the British Retail Consortium has reacted to the report by calling on councils to improve recycling measures and reach a consensus on which materials can be recycled.

Well, I've got just one thing to say on the matter...

...but before I belt it out, I suggest you put your fingers in your ears as I take a deep breath and yell to the world.......


Don't get me wrong, the study has thrown up some interesting research and - quite rightly - the evidence should be reported. It is indeed a very useful report, with well-researched detail.

But while government representatives and retail bodies engage in an open air boxing match, I am worried that many consumers will be left looking on with either disregard or bemusement, feeling the lack of power to do something about it.

And then there's the recession to deal with. Don't forget we can always blame that too.

Oh well. That's it. We might as well bury our heads in the sand till it's over eh, when the economy is back on its legs, the supermarkets have ditched their unrecyclable packaging and the country has a perfect recycling system.

Or alternatively, we could continue to vote with our feet and our wallets, applying the small changes that make a huge difference, always looking out for alternatives...because they do exist and we still have the power of choice.

Well that's what I had to say on the matter today on the JVS show at BBC Three Counties Radio, while discussing recycling and the recession. If you're interested do tune into Listen Again where you'll find me defending the issue at roughly 2 hours 47 minutes into the programme.

I only hope I've convinced the lovely JVS to carry on washing out his yoghurt pots! You've got to keep an eye on him you know. Perhaps I should have suggested he has a go at making his own!

Well you have to keep cheerful don't you!



mel said...

It really annoys me that the supermarkets aren't trying harder on this - especially the ones with the "good" reputations like Waitrose & M&S. (Though on a positive note, I'm now buying M&S organic butter which comes wrapped in greaseproof paper - seems to compost pretty well)

We're plugging away at work - at the moment we're training everyone to say "Do you NEED a bag" instead of "Would you LIKE a bag" - small thing, big difference (except to certain types of tourists - the green uptake is definitely regional)

Mel x

John Costigane said...

Hi Mrs A,

I totally agree with your view on the current Blame Game spat. As usual, we consumers have to lead the rest.

Supermarkets are getting the harsh words while recently they have accepted container use.

Katy said...

The first thing that hit me is that there is not a massive amount of difference between "best" and "worst" - 58% versus 67%? Sounds like they are all distinctly average to me. I think this is a rather simplistic assessment and I have some sympathy for the supermarket's reactions.

I am always wary of stats, so I had a quick look at the report for more detail. I am not sure they are always comparing like with like, e.g. the 12" pizzas varied from 265g to 772g. When they are calculating "grams of packaging per 100g product" then that's going to skew the results.

I notice that shoppers in the study were asked to choose pre-packed meat and fish products even when there was a delicatessen available, which would have reduced the packaging. However, they were instructed to buy loose fruit and veg in preference to pre-packed. I don't understand that.

I'd like to see assessments like this really highlight differences in how things are packaged, and relate them to the quality of the food. Are biscuits that come in a tray as well as a wrapper less broken than biscuits that are just in a wrapper? Is a pizza with less packaging more squashed than one that's protected with more card and wrap? How many apples get binned from the loose ones compared to the pre packed ones? These are the things we really need to know.

In the meantime, as you say, the consumers just need to carry on making their presence felt by where and how they spend.

Katy said...

Oops - sorry, that comment turned out to be a bit of a beast!


Hi Mel - I think the main problem is the time issue. We need the results now and it isn't all happening fast enough. But while packaging is being addressed on the retail side I would like to see supermarkets working more closely with local authorities in each area and improving their communications to their local customers...

For example, instead of displaying the typical useless signs that advise customers to check if the packaging can be recycled in the area, they could put more informative notices, such as "Did you know Tetrapaks can be recycled in our car park etc..."

Our local Waitrose recently displayed a notice beside their chilled drinks cabinet which promoted their redesigned drinks cartons which had ditched the pull-off tab in an effort to reduce plastic waste. We need more of that kind of publicity to show the positive steps that supermarket are taking, especially as there is lots going on behind the scenes that consumers aren't aware of.

Great choice with the butter by the way. I use Yeo Valley where the greaseproof inner can be easily separated from the foil outer. Takes seconds.

I'm hoping to visit Ruby over the next few months, so I'll pop in and see you and take pleasure in refusing a bag :-D

Hi John - I really think that supermarkets should promote container refills more actively. There are obviously concerns from some supermarkets over health and safety of customers taking in their own containers, but I think anybody who cares enough to take in their own sealed container will have had the sense to have washed it out beforehand. Besides, there is also a marketing opportunity for them to sell branded containers. Sales on such items combined with savings from deli-packaging surely means more profits too. I will applaud the first supermarket to take this idea nationwide. :-D

Hi Katy - you are absolutely right and more information should be made available about the actual food waste problems. When I spoke to the BRC press office today it was something they were keen to highlight and I agree with everything they said. When it comes to certain packaging, even crisp packets have their role, because despite my frustrations, if they weren't packaged appropriately they would go soft and go to waste. And that doesn't even put a dent in the problem with wasted food.

Again, I would like to see more manufacturers communicating the measures they are taking to conscious consumers through supermarkets or via other media.

It looks like its coming back to communication again, which will help ease shoppers' frustrations and improve understanding.

And by the way...the beast was a good 'un :-D

mel said...

That'd be good - we'll have to make time for coffee & cake too!


Katy said...

Ah, that's a good example Mrs A - crisp packets are fine, absolutely, nobody wants soggy crisps! But why can't you have "buy 6 for £1.99" instead of 6 bags in another plastic bag? *That* seems to be unnecessary packaging to me.

Branded reusable containers for fresh food counters? Genius! Look how everyone jumped on the reusable bag bandwagon (bagwagon? lol). Copyright the idea immediately....

Karin said...

That's interesting, because of the items I buy I find more have recyclable packaging in Waitrose than in Sainsbury's, but then I usually avoid the puddings and other delicacies wrapped with large stiff plastic covers to stop them getting a bit bashed on the way home - except very occasionally for a special treat on a birthday or anniversary sometimes.

mrs green said...

Hey Mrs A - it's great to see so much interest in this topic and lots of people with varying opinions on the points raised in the report.

I've enjoyed reading everyone's comments and I hope something good comes of this report in the not-too-distant future.

I'll be interested to see how things progress; maybe there will be some very positive changes. Let's remain optimistic :)

Mrs g x

Peter said...

Hi Mrs A,

I almost missed all this as I was away at a conference up in Scotland... about 'protecting intellectual property' of all things. I'd been invited as a 'voice' for the 'person in his shed'/ very small 's' SME.

Well worth it. A bit like here, there was a tendency for those in 'the industry' to get a bit up themselves and start debating very high falutin' things... and totally missing the fact that much is simply passing the average Joe by... whilst dragging on, and on... at cerebral levels that may look great if you're ticking a box or being paid to do, but hardly addressing much of real concern or input now.

And I am surprised, pleasantly I might add, that folk here have appreciated it is not a simple as some would have you think, and in fact few from the establishment - authorities, industry... or media - are exactly covered in glory here. Yet see merit in the blame game over sorting things out.

I would have missed all this (other than catching your blog now:) but for an odd thing.

I stood, nervously in this vast hall, having followed guys from vast entities like Virgin Media discussing intricate details of software protections, and launched into the quaint notion of designed-in reuse, and a patented idea for a silly little bit of plastic.

I couldn't believe the attention, and response, from all these high-powered folk.... and said so.

Then this nice lady held up a paper and told me that what I had been talking about was all over the news that morning. Talk about good timing!

Now all I need to do with my reuse notions is get 'in' to some of these guys while they may be a bit more open to genuine green suggestions!


Hi Mel, that'll be a date then. I think it might be after Easter some time. Will let you know. :-D

Hi Mrs G - It's been great to see what the folks have had to say over at your site too. While the big boys have their say on such matters, it really concerns me that there is no evidence of organisations taking into account what the consumer wants. Maybe they do? If so, I'd like to hear about it. :-D

Hi Peter - It's great to hear from you and what a fantastic experience it must have been at the Intellectual Property conference. I remember the days I worked in Digital Rights Management (a more unpopular form of protecting IP rights). It's an expensive business but financially vital to all concerned.

Your solution should make people sit up and take notice because these are the things that matter. Gone are the days when resources can be squandered and whittled away no matter what function they perform. I truly believe we are experiencing a new kind of industrial revolution. It's great that you're part of it. :-D

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin