A Free Press!

19 February 2007

I wonder how many Packaging Today readers wrote to The Independent newspaper when it mounted its “Anti-Waste Campaign”. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the paper has published not a single letter seeking to inform the debate, preferring to reflect the feeding frenzy it has generated. So, for the benefit of PT readers, below is just one example of an attempt at balance:

Dear Editor, Like others I have followed your anti-waste campaign with much interest, firstly because most in the packaging industry want to ensure we make a positive contribution to sustainability by protecting and preserving products without using excessive material or producing packs unfit for purpose. Secondly there are many contributions you have received that cloud the issue rather than address the real problems. Can I illustrate this with a few examples?

Contrary to your own comments (leading article: January 24) and the views of some of your 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 recycling schemes we can learn from, nevertheless they still use more packaging.

Figures from 2003 show that whilst in the UK our annual packaging consumption was 167 kilos, in France it was about 200, Italy 195, Spain 185 and Germany 190. UK packaging industry growth, at 0.6% per annum between 2000 and 2005, is also much smaller than the UK average as a whole (5.1%), partly because the packaging industry has reduced the materials used in a range of packs.

Although glass bottles seem ideal for re-use, there are some less obvious environmental costs. 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.

Much of the increase in packaging reflects social and lifestyle changes. Increasing single person households, consumer requirements for ready meals, and often excessive 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 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 so that there is minimal waste and environmental impact. The Independent's campaign is one that has highlighted many legitimate issues and concerns but please can we move away from “overpackaged” responses?

Yours sincerely

Gordon Stewart

IOP: The Packaging Society

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