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The UK needs effective environmental labelling, warns Environmental Audit Committee

The Government must do more to ensure that environmental labelling is clear, simple and consistent and it must do more to encourage carbon labelling, warns the Environmental Audit Committee.

In a report named, Environmental Labelling, the Environmental Audit Committee calls for a sector-based universal labelling scheme comparable to those emerging in food labelling that can incorporate a wealth of information in a simple and instantly understandable label for consumers.

Products will have a carbon footprint from their pre-purchase phase to their disposal or recycling. The Committee says that carbon labelling is crucially important and the value of the carbon label will be increasingly important as consumers awareness and knowledge of embedded carbon grows.

The Committee calls on the Government to support and encourage carbon labelling for all products and services as a priority but ultimately as part of a universal and comprehensive environmental labelling scheme. It should legislate for this if necessary. A packaging insider told MRW last month that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were delaying the new packaging strategy over a question raised about the logistics of carbon-based packaging targets (see MRW story).

Sustainable Consumption commissioner Dr Alan Knight gave evidence to the Environment Audit Committee about the issue of environmental labelling. He was asked a question by the Chairman about waste and what consideration was being given to the disposal of goods at  the point of sale and how much was incorporated into labelling, including the potential for recycling as well.

Dr Knight said that waste management labelling was a good example of how perhaps labelling is not actually going to be the best solution.

He continued: Giving customers the information about what type of plastic it is makes sense because plastic all looks the same and it is quite complex, but just saying on a glass bottle
Please recycle me is almost a bit patronising and a bit facile. People know what glass looks like. They know they are handling a glass bottle. What they want is to make glass recycling easy for them. They want access to the recycling bins. They want it to be easy. So a label is not really going to make a huge difference.

He added that recycling and recyclability has got a bit confused. He said: Some labels are saying what the recycled content of the actual product is, whereas other labels are saying This is recyclable and I think for a lot of people recyclable and recycle contents is just a bit, Oh, whats the difference?


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