I have just responded to another letter from an MP asking what is being done to reduce packaging and the use of carrier bags because one of their constituents has concerns about over-packaging of products.
Sadly the consumer perception of packaging is not based on the evidence
Sadly the consumer perception of packaging is not based on the evidence. Not only that, customers are not aware of the raft of great work being done by retailers to reduce environmental impact.
Take the reduction in the number of carrier bags distributed: halved in three years. Under a British Retail Consortium voluntary initiative, A Better Retailing Climate, retailers have cut emissions from buildings by 17% in three years and reduced waste so that less than a third goes to landfill. Retailers are also helping customers to reduce their environmental impact. For example, the launch of the on-pack recycling label enables brands and retailers to communicate effectively with consumers about recycling.
Retailers are leading the way on reducing the environmental impacts of packaging: the Courtauld Commitment 2 is evidence of that. So why do we have such a hard time convincing people that significant progress is being made? In particular, why do consumers find it hard to understanding that cucumbers, apples and potatoes are all packaged for sound environmental reasons?
First, consumers do not think about the need to prolong the life of food to stop it ending up being thrown away, so they think the packaging is unnecessary. The truth is that UK consumers throw away a phenomenal amount of food: around a third of the food they buy. Packaging plays an important part in reducing that. Second, as soon as the product is out of the packaging, it’s a very visible and often bulky symbol of the waste we generate.
That is why the revised Courtauld Commitment is so important. It is a cutting- edge initiative that creates drivers to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and product. The agreement contains a commitment to reduce the environmental impacts of packaging as well as cut household food and drink waste and product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain.
Last month I wrote about the need to join up supply and demand for recycled content. Courtauld Commitment 2 is an important part of that process because increased use of recycled content is one of the mechanisms available to signatories to reduce the impact of their packaging. I fully expect to see far more established markets for recycled content by the end of Courtauld 2.
This is a world-first in the adoption of a sophisticated strategy across a sector to reduce the impacts of packaging. It demonstrates that the sector is rising to the challenge of evolving in a new carbon-constrained era. Buzz phrases of the moment are resource efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and minimising environmental impact. Courtauld 2 achieves all three.
The Government has set stretching targets to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 34% by 2020. That is a cut of one-third over a very short time frame. For the packaging sector to set itself a target to reduce the carbon impact of grocery packaging by 10% by 2012 shows real ambition to meet these 2020 targets. Let’s hope that other sectors are as bold in rising to meet the
I look forward to a day when retailers do not come under fire from environmentally minded consumers because a cucumber has a plastic sleeve or some apples are in a tray. We’re getting there and Courtauld 2 is a big step forward. But there is still a long way to go, not least on the consumer education front.