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Channel 4 “The Insider” programme set to lambast “overpackaging”

A Channel 4 Television programme to be broadcast in the UK at 7.30 tonight (Friday July 13, 2007) and presented by Mark Constantine, founder of Lush, the UK handmade cosmetics and soap retailer maker, looks set to lambast today's “culture of excess packaging” and call for consumers to rebel against it.

Constantine, described in Channel 4’s pre-show publicity for its The Insider programme, “Packaging is Rubbish”, as a business and environmental campaigner, was a former soap supplier to the UK’s Body Shop before he established the multi-million pound Lush chain of high street soap and cosmetics emporia.

According to Channel 4’s somewhat sensationalist pre-show press statement: “Britons throw away more than six million tonnes of wrappers, boxes, bottles and jars every year and 98% think manufacturers and retailers need to do more to reduce the amount of packaging used. The statement goes on: “The packaging adds nearly £500 a year to an average family’s food bill alone, as well as having a huge environmental impact, as much of its is non-recyclable”. The programme makers also claim, in the pre-show press release that, while there are “plenty of consumers out there willing to give up fancy wrappers, boxes and bottles in favour of bare products”, the vast majority “continue to use over-packaged products supplied”.

Constantine apparently concedes that some companies, (he cites Unilever with its Small and Mighty concentrated detergents, which reportedly use 40% less packaging) are striving hard to use less packaging. However he also claims that “far from seeing a reduction” generally, the UK is seeing “a packaging explosion”.

The rampantly “anti” pre-show material stuck a raw nerve with campaigning group on packaging and the environment Incpen (The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment), which spends much of its time championing the industry’s exhaustive efforts to reduce “excess packaging” via lightweighting and other minimisation measures against a barrage of criticism from the “green” lobby.

Jane Bickerstaffe, Incpen’s director, told Packaging Today earlier today: “Programmes like this, which provide very little balance, are really giving the industry a bad name, the danger being that not only will packaging become even more of a whipping boy for ‘green’ lobbyists but equally for those in Government charged with legislating. If we’re not careful we could soon see Gordon Brown picking on packaging as an easy source of additional revenue for the Treasury. We’re all aware of instances of over-packaging, but the industry really must stand up more vocally for all the good things it has done on the environmental front”.

Bickerstaffe backed her rhetoric with hard facts. For instance, with specific reference to Lush and its products, she said: “Packaging makes things last much longer. Soap hardens in the air. Wrapping stops it drying out and keeps perfumes and essential oils inside the pack, so the cauliflower next to it in your shopping basket doesn’t end up tasting of soap”.

Incpen also points out that much of Lush’s soap arrives in store in strong cardboard transit packs (a fact evidenced when she asked a Lush employee about the method of delivery), while Bickerstaffe told Packaging Today that on her own recent “fact-finding” visit to a Lush store she had seen “much of the store’s back wall adorned with fancily packed gift items”.

Alluding to an attack on milk portion packs, Bickerstaffe added: “Individual portions of milk may seem like excessive packaging at first glance but a little plastic pot weighing just one gram helps consumers reduce their carbon footprint by preventing the milk going to waste. Dairy foods have a huge carbon footprint… the energy to produce a litre of milk is over 5000 kilojoules, so it’s important consumers don’t waste it. . Few of us would relish pouring milk from a half empty jug that had sat on a café table for several hours and had been used by numerous customers before them.”

Bickerstaffe also points out to the uninitiated that the packaging industry has been “reducing packaging for years” for instance a one-litre plastic detergent bottle is 58% lighter than in 1970, while household packaging “occupies just 3% of landfill”.

She concluded: “I would willingly have gone on camera for the programme to defend the sector against the many unfair charges levelled against it, but as soon as I started arguing my case the researcher I spoke to lost interest. This was despite her being happy to ring me for appropriate industry contacts for the programme’s use.”

Incpen: www.incpen.org

Channel 4: www.channel4.com

Packaging Today’s newsdesk would welcome reasoned debate and comments on the Channel 4 “Packaging is Rubbish” television programme for potential inclusion in the magazine. E: jbaillie@wilmington.co.uk


Incpen director Jane Bickerstaffe