Packing a punch

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Sometimes – just sometimes – you have to feel a little for the nation’s supermarkets. Not only do they have to provide us with the finest food and drink at rock bottom prices all year round, but they’ve also got to find ever-more inventive ways to retain customers while constantly being accused of ruining both the high street and the countryside.

On top of all that, they now have to put up with criticism from the Local Government Association, which recently published a report suggesting that local councils may miss their recycling targets if supermarkets don’t cut down on the amount of non-recyclable packaging they use.

The LGA report suggests that both smaller retailers and local markets outperform the major retailers in terms of using less packaging and ensuring the maximum percentage of that packaging is recyclable.

Few would argue with the need to minimise packaging or with the suggestion that more could be done. But laudable as this call for action may be, there is far more to the packaging issue than the LGA implies.

For a start, lots of sensitive products really do need careful packaging – eggs, for instance. Then there’s the fact that all the major supermarkets have already begun to realise they need to further reduce packaging – witness Marks and Spencer’s commitment in January to reduce non-glass packaging by 25 per cent before 2012, for example.

You also need to bear in mind that where supermarkets sell third party brands, their control over the packaging might not be absolute.

And what of the role of local councils themselves? As M&S points out, around 20 per cent more of its packaging could already be recycled if local councils had the facilities in place to recycle some of the materials they do not currently bother to recycle.

Last but by no means least, there is also the thorny issue of just how to get consumers to actually recycle recyclable packaging – again something that falls more within the local councils’ remit than the supermarkets’.

So why has the LGA raised this whole issue and decided to point the finger at the supermarkets? Could it be because they want to make up for infuriating residents up and down the country with highly debatable ‘pay-as-you-throw’ schemes and fortnightly rubbish collections? Or is it just as simple as the fines of £3bn they may soon face if they fail to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill, as the LGA itself points out?

Whatever the case, my own suggestions for reducing unnecessary waste in the future are as follows.

First, just stop eating. The packaging food comes in will soon cease to be an issue as will the nation’s looming obesity crisis. Second, don’t bother to vote in any forthcoming local council elections. The saving on paper voting slips and the energy needed to recycle them will be enormous and in any case, voting only encourages the buggers. And third, let’s all stop wasting energy in having a go at supermarkets for things they aren’t wholly responsible for. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago they were being accused of buying up land and doing nothing with it just to ensure their competitors couldn’t access it. And you can’t get much greener than that, now can you?

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