U.K. Retailers Seek Advantage on Waste Issue

Sep 11, 2006

By Bernice
, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

Consumers and retailers in the U.K. are drawing closer together in their views on waste and packaging. Voluntary targets were agreed for the following five years between the top 13 retail chains in July 2005 in the Courtauld Commitment. Linking with WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), objectives include:

  • Redesigning packaging to reduce excessive waste by 2008

  • Delivering absolute reductions in packaging waste by March 2010

  • Identifying ways to tackle the problem of food waste 

Finding ways to reduce waste through a combination of increased recycling and using more environmentally friendly (even compost-able) materials has moved to the top of the agenda. Competition to be “greenest” grocer is hotting up, although Asda’s chief executive, Andy Bond, recently announced plans to host a sustainability conference later in the year for U.K. supermarket retailers to share expertise on packaging and renewable energy.


Consumers, meanwhile, are proving their willingness to cooperate by recycling as much of their waste as they can, sorting it into different coloured bags, boxes and bins generally supplied by local government departments. Earlier this year, the Women’s Institute organized a series of demonstrations, encouraging members to return surplus bags and packaging to the supermarkets from which it had come in an effort, said national chair Fay Mansell, to persuade stores to “reduce unnecessary packaging and put the environment first.”

Discussion Questions: Where does waste and packaging
reduction stand on the environmental priority list for American consumers and
businesses? In what specific ways are retailers and consumer goods manufacturers
dealing with this issue?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

6 Comments on "U.K. Retailers Seek Advantage on Waste Issue"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Lilien
14 years 5 months ago

UK retailers are terrified of the German retail waste solution. Years ago, German retailers were forced to accept all their packaging waste from their customers (bags, wrappers, clam packs, bubble packs, tags, you-name-it). Germany is running out of landfill space and the government decided that businesses who create waste should take it back. When all 50 states have bottle and can deposit laws (at rates much higher than 5 or 10 cents), deposit laws for newspapers and magazines, German-style packaging laws, taxes on junk mail, deposits on shoes and clothing, mandatory biodegradable cigarette filters and tampon inserters, taxes on Styrofoam containers, fees for detergents and automotive chemicals that foul groundwater, deposit laws for computers, TVs and all other appliances as well as all batteries, then American retailers and their customers may take recycling seriously. Debating plastic versus paper bags seems like discussing the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.

Bernice Hurst
14 years 5 months ago

Jute bags are becoming more popular in the UK, sometimes being sold, other times given away for free as Sainsbury’s is doing at the moment when customers spend a certain amount on organic food products. Waitrose gives/sells reusable bags particularly aimed at customers who use self-checkout so they can pack as they shop. And all of our supermarkets now have so-called bags for life which are sold once for a small fee. They are to be re-used as many times as possible then replaced free of charge when they can’t be used again. Still made of plastic but at least there are fewer in circulation and they reduce the number of flimsy “disposable” plastic bags that customers use. And, of course, all varieties have the retailer’s name emblazoned all over it so customers and non-customers alike can see how responsible they are.

James Tenser
14 years 5 months ago
Worth highlighting in this discussion is the Costco approach – of reusing corrugated packing for consumers to carry purchases home. Seems pretty green to us shoppers, on the surface at least. After all, we all recycle at home, right? This has the added side benefit to Costco of reducing its corrugated waste disposal bill somewhat. On the other hand, many club packs have an extra layer of plastic film holding several smaller packages together as a unit – so one wonders if the benefits of “baglessness” are offset in the end. The data points cited by George above help zero in on the trickier side of this issue. It’s hard for consumers to know which packaging choice has the greatest total environmental impact. How should we compare the damage caused by a 1,000-year plastic bag with the gallons of water polluted in manufacturing paper sacks? How about the fertilizer and insecticide leached into the environment from a field of cereal crops versus the relative energy impact of raising cattle and distributing beef? In a perfect… Read more »
George Anderson
14 years 5 months ago
Retailers and manufacturers are putting greater emphasis on taking less out of the environment. Companies such as Whole Foods have led the way in this area in the past (made business sense based on their targeted consumer market) but, more recently, others such as Wal-Mart have stepped up. Manufacturers also have made great strides in recent years in redesigning packages to reduce the amount of material being used and then finding its way to landfills or even less desirable areas, such as rivers, roadsides, etc. One of the key challenges that remains is defining what needs to be done. The plastic versus paper issue continues to be unresolved, leading many retailers, primarily in grocery, to offer shoppers a choice between bags made from the two materials. Neither choice is good, ecologically speaking, but retailers such as Whole Foods, which positions itself as a steward of the environment, have at the very least taken a position on the issue. Here are the pertinent considerations as listed on the Whole Foods’ web site. * Plastic bag production… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
14 years 5 months ago

Our problem is that we like to “talk” green and bank it simultaneously. Americans have demonstrated they are overwhelmingly in favor of environmental causes…as long as somebody else pays for them.

George Anderson
George Anderson
14 years 5 months ago

While not related to packaging waste but to food waste, Starbucks offers used coffee grounds free of charge to whomever wants them for use in composting.


Take Our Instant Poll

Which has the greatest opportunity to reduce packaging waste?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...