With a lot of attention these days on over-packaging, and an attempt being made to revert back to a time when we put loose fruit and vegetables into our wicker shopping baskets on market day, packaging has been given a hard time.
The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) is a research organisation set up in 1974 to look at the environmental and social effects of packaging. It works with regulators to ensure that packaging policies benefit the environment, encourages the industry to improve packaging, and informs governments, public interest groups and the media about the role of packaging in our lives.
Director Jane Bickerstaffe says the main message she wants to get across at the LARAC conference is the importance of working with local authorities. "We always want to build on our relationship [with local authorities]. We need to understand their concerns and problems," she says.
She feels that recycling is now on the right track, something that is "mainly because of the excellent work that local authorities have done". Now that there are regulations and recycling strategies in place, she believes the focus has turned towards reducing the amount of waste in the first place, which can be a trickier task than it sounds. "What can you say to people - 'don't buy too much'?" Bickerstaffe asks.
As far as packaging is concerned, she says we have to be realistic: "You can say to people 'don't choose goods with packaging', but what if you were to buy a chocolate cake? You have to have some packaging to carry items home in." She concedes that there is room for improvement with packaging, but that the industry is moving in the right direction.
But she is not complacent, and says there is a need to "make sure the people who produce the laws understand". It is fine to set targets, but she feels that blanket targets are not necessarily a good idea. Bickerstaffe reasons that a better solution would be for a general aim to be issued by the regulators, such as "reduce the environmental impact overall', and then individual local authorities can come up with their own targets.
As local authorities know their capabilities and systems best, she says it seems more logical and reasonable that they come up with an appropriate and realistic system of targets that is tailored to them, rather than adhering to very specific advice being churned out of a central body. That way, each local authority can work out the best way of meeting the targets.
Bickerstaffe praises the excellent job local authorities have done to increase recycling rates. But it is an area where she feels that local authorities and INCPEN can work together more closely. She explains that one of the problems local authorities face is in getting planning permission for waste management facilities. She believes this is an example of an area wher