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Green Alliance calls for all food packaging to be recyclable/compostable by 2013

Green Alliance, the independent charity that works to “make environmental solutions a priority in British politics” has published a “step-by-step” compostable packaging guide for food products, simultaneously challenging British food producers, retailers, local authorities and waste companies to implement measures to ensure that all food packaging is recyclable or compostable by 2013.

Its call for blanket use of compostable and recyclable food packaging has, however, been criticised by UK environmental campaigning group on packaging Incpen (The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) which says that, while if manufacturers choose to use compostable packaging, the publication will be useful, the call for all food packaging to be recyclable or compostable within six years is “neither realistic, useful nor environmentally sound”. Incpen director Jane Bickerstaffe says: “This is because making all packaging recyclable or compostable will lead to the use of more packaging. Only single materials – like glass, cardboard, metal and plastics – can be readily recycled. For overall resource efficiency manufacturers sometimes use ultra-thin combinations of different materials. This sort of packaging reduces the size and weight of the packs and the transport fuel needed in delivery. Resource-efficient packaging is sometimes recyclable or compostable, and sometimes not. Incpen calls for a holistic approach to packaging but we certainly welcome Green Alliance’s call for manufacturers, retailers, local authorities and waste companies to work together.”

Green Alliance settled on the 2013 target date after “extensive discussions with retailer and other partners” to produce guidance on compostable packaging’s use. While “not all retailers have set themselves such a target”, Green Alliance says it believes it will be “an important and necessary spur to innovation in this area”. The guidance document, “Applications for compostable packaging”, (accessible at www.green-alliance.org.uk/wasteandresources), includes comprehensive information on the pros and cons of compostable packaging, examples of current and envisaged applications, and an overview of current developments in the field. Drawing on experience gained in a number of countries, it seeks to help potential users of recyclable and compostable packaging determine which might offer the “best” solution for particular applications. Advice on the content was provided by organisations including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Boots, Incpen and LARAC, the local authority recycling advisory committee.

To meet the 2013 target date, Green Alliance says packaging manufacturers will “need to produce more sustainable packaging that can either be composted or easily recycled”, while retailers must “provide the incentive” by specifying compostable or recyclable packaging in their purchasing decisions, simplifying the range of packaging materials across their food ranges, and working together to develop clear labelling for consumers. Local authorities will “need to provide consumers with home composting bins for those with gardens and collection of food waste and compostable packaging fort those without”, alongside a “comprehensive recycling service” for plastics, glass, metal, paper and cardboard. Such steps, The Alliance argues, will require central government to “take more of a lead to ensure local authorities work to common standards on what is collected and how”, while waste companies will need to collaborate with local authorities and retailers “to develop integrated recycling and composting infrastructure”.

Stephen Hale, director of Green Alliance, says: “Consumers want to be greener but need help reducing their waste and carbon footprint. Yet 18% of UK household waste is food waste and a further 20% is packaging. Landfill is no longer an option. Manufacturers, retailers, local authorities and waste companies can, and must, do more to help householders do the right thing.”

Stuart Lendrum, Sainsbury’s head of print and packaging, says: “This is important work. It may offer a model for joined-up thinking between packaging producers, consumers and local authorities. We would be happy to send it to all our suppliers.”

Green Alliance: T: +44 (0)207 233 7433; E: ga@green-alliance.org.uk