Could supermarkets take pointers from the Olympic legacy of reducing, reusing and composting food packaging?

What’s the problem? If you ever make it through the sliding doors of a supermarket, it’ll be staring you in the face – stacks of excessive (and often unrecyclable) packaging.

But what do you expect a supermarket to stick their food in? It’s more the fact that supermarkets have been known to overdo it.

Apart from logic, are there any rules and regs to say you can have too much of a bad thing? Sure. In 2005, the Government-funded body Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) launched the first Courtald Commitment – a voluntary deal for retailers to pledge responsibility for its packaging, and committing to reduce its output. Courtald Committment 2 was brought into force in 2010. The EU also has some pretty strict targets, including a directive on packaging and packaging waste, and producer responsibility obligations.

OK, so where is it going wrong? Packaging boards lined with plastic film or polyethylyne coated trays make up many of ready meals, sandwiches, prepared fruit and raw meat goods’ packages. They’re non-compostable and end up in your rubbish bin, all set to be taken straight to landfill.

Hmm, that is pretty wasteful. Who can help? The Olympics got everyone into a sporting spirit, but we reckon there’s more to the legacy than just sweatbands and cycles. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) were keen as anything to hit ambitious sustainability targets, and reducing wasteful packaging by recycling or composting 70% of it was among its key aims. Their guidelines suggested simple and logical approaches for their partners to consider. Digest understands that despite only being half way through the Games programme, all is set to be on track, according to LOCOG.

Great! Like what? Firstly, make the packaging reusable. Too much of the UK’s packaging is over-specified – i.e. only suitable for single use – so we rack up harmful percentage points on the waste hierarchy. LOCOG also suggests the obvious one – make it recyclable, but not just technically recyclable, i.e. making it out of a product that can be recycled but is not commonly picked up by local authorities. Suppliers should consider the ease for the end user.

Sounds simple enough – are supermarkets bothering to change their wasteful ways? Reassuringly, yes. Sainsbury’s has launched its 20 by 20 Sustainability Plan, one aim being to halve the amount of packaging it uses in its own brand products by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. Morrisons now use ‘smart packaging’ that extends the life of fresh produce, as does Marks & Spencer. Smart packaging uses palladium paper for strawberry and soft fruit punnets, which absorbs the fruit-decaying chemical ethylene. Waitrose has also trialled new packaging solutions such as reducing the thickness of salad bags, removing paper labels from its own-brand egg boxes and introducing wine bottles made from recycled glass.

So they’re moving in the right direction then? Presumably they’re gearing up for 2014 – the year the European Parliament is dubbing the year against food waste.

Does LOCOG have any more to say on the matter? We’ll be aiming to catch up with them after the Games to find out what legacy plans are in place (if any) for packaging and recycling.

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