Campaign against packaging waste
Many in the packaging industry will have followed The Independent's anti-waste campaign with a good deal of interest, for two main reasons. First, because most of us want to ensure that we make a positive contribution to sustainability by protecting and preserving products without using excessive material or producing packs that are unfit for purpose. Secondly, the paper publishes a large number of uninformed contributions that cloud the issue rather than address some of the real problems.
Contrary to The Independent's comments (Leading article: 24 January) and the views of some of its readers, the UK is not an overpackaged society compared with many of our European neighbours, and although some of them may have re-use and re-cycling schemes that we can learn from, nevertheless they still use more packaging than we do. Figures from 2003 show that while the UK's annual packaging consumption per capita was 167 kilos, in France it was about 200, Italy 195, Spain 185 and Germany 190. Growth in the UK packaging industry (at 0.6% per annum between 2000 and 2005) is also much lower than for the UK industry average (5.1%) and this is in part the result of the fact that the packaging industry has reduced the amount of materials used in a range of packs.
Although glass bottles seem to be ideal for re-use, there are some less obvious environmental costs to this process. Re-usable glass bottles need to be made of heavier gauge glass to stand up to the knocks of handling and cleansing. The impact of this additional material on production and transport, along with the energy needed to return and cleanse the bottles, needs to be considered in any environmental assessment. What is the point of going for re-use if the total environmental impact is greater?
The need for packaging
Much of the increase in packaging reflects social and lifestyle changes. The increase in single person households, consumer requirements for ready meals, and often excessive customer demands that food should be covered 'to avoid contamination' all contribute to demands for increased packaging.
Finally, in countries with an undeveloped packaging supply chain, up to 50% of all the food produced never gets consumed because of spoilage from temperature, pests, problems arising from handling and transport etc.
The key functions of packaging are to preserve and protect products in a way in which there is minimal waste and environmental impact. The Independent's campaign is one that has highlighted many legitimate issues and concerns, but it does need to avoid overpackaged comments.
Contact: Gordon Stewart on 01476 514593, email Gordon.Stewart@iom3.org.
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