Campaign sent packing by retailers

A RETAIL group has slammed protests by the Women Institute against supermarket packaging as “misguided” and “based on misinformation”.The WI is set to launch its campaign, which is urging supermarkets to cut out excessive packaging, today with letters to stores and some members wrapping themselves in clingfilm.

A RETAIL group has slammed protests by the Women Institute against supermarket packaging as “misguided” and “based on misinformation”.

The WI is set to launch its campaign, which is urging supermarkets to cut out excessive packaging, today with letters to stores and some members wrapping themselves in clingfilm.

It has called for “unnecessary” wrapping such as shrink-wrapped plastic on fruits and vegetables, to be phased out, saying that supermarket groceries account for 70% of the UK's £9billion packaging market.

The National Federation of Women's Institutes claims that the cost of that packaging adds an average £470 a year to household food bills.


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It wants food chains to tackle the problem by charging customers for plastic carrier bags or offering financial perks for customers using their own, and is calling on supermarkets to package all groceries in compostable and recyclable materials.

But the British Retail Consortium argues that shop goods account for less than 1% of all the UK's waste, and says packaging is “overwhelmingly” used for reasons of safety, hygiene, product protection, quality assurance and information.

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“The Women's Institutes' tactics are misguided,” said the British Retail Consortium's director general Kevin Hawkins.

“No one adds packaging for its own sake. Retailers and manufacturers recognise their environmental responsibilities and have a strong financial incentive to use no more than necessary. At the same time, they are making big efforts to innovate and boost recycling.

“We do not apologise for packaging. It doesn't add to waste, it reduces it. It also protects the product from incidental or malicious damage at each stage of the supply chain. Would any customer accept a new television or eggs that were supplied unwrapped? It keeps us safe and healthy and makes modern lifestyles possible.

“Anyone returning so-called unnecessary packaging to stores should consider whether they would really have bought the goods without it.”

As part of its campaign, the WI, which has around 215,000 members in the UK, is urging large stores to stop sending food waste to landfill sites. Instead, it is calling on them to send unwanted groceries to charities and turn any excess into compost.

It also wants supermarkets to buy fresh produce from suppliers within a 30-mile radius to cut down on food miles.

Members are sending out letters to store managers describing the use of packaging on own-brand products such as fruit and vegetables as “alarming” and warning that if they do not change their approach, they will lose the sender's custom.

“We all pay for the waste in terms of our council tax. We are paying for that packaging in the first place and for its disposal at the other end,” said WI spokeswoman Amy Bick.

The BRC argued that goods that are properly packaged are less likely to be damaged or spoiled, and so returned or thrown away. However, it said it shares the WI's environmental aims.

“The WI say packaging costs £470 per household per year, but in fact, every pound manufacturers spend on packaging prevents wastage of £5 worth of goods,” it said.

“It ensures food is safe to eat and that fragile items are not broken or damaged. Food poisoning is now rare. It transports and stores potentially dangerous products. It prevents tampering. Child resistant caps save children's lives.”

It said packaging “is wanted” by consumers, makes modern lifestyles possible and is convenient and saves time.

The Consortium also pointed out that computerised stock control meant very little was left to throw away. Disposal of meat and fish was legally controlled and there were practical difficulties in economically collecting food waste separately from retailers.

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