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Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how the Government plan (a) to reduce the amount of packaging used by big businesses and (b) to encourage consumers to choose products with less packaging. (76852)

Last year the Government launched the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement between 13 major retailers and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to reduce packaging waste. There are three broad objectives to meet, which are:

i. to design out packaging waste growth by 2008;

ii. to deliver absolute reductions in packaging waste by March 2010; and

iii. to identify ways to tackle the problem of food waste.

There are also two sets of regulations which cover packaging in the UK both of which encourage producers (including retailers) to minimise packaging. The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 (as amended) are intended to increase the recovery and recycling of packaging waste. The amount of packaging waste producers have to recover and recycle is determined, in part, by the amount of packaging they handle. Therefore, businesses can save money if they reduce the amount of packaging they handle. The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 (as amended) place a number of requirements on all packaging placed on the market in the UK, including a requirement that packaging should be manufactured so that the volume and weight are limited to the minimum adequate amount to maintain the necessary level of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer.

Both regulations have led to decreases in packaging used around products. However, more still needs to be done to reduce the amount of packaging that is produced. We have asked the Advisory Committee on Packaging to work with industry to find solutions to this problem and to let me have recommendations for ways of encouraging businesses to further reduce the amount of packaging they use.

Although legislation is one way of reducing packaging, consumers also have a part to play. If consumers make a point of choosing goods that are not heavily packaged, buy “loose” food rather than pre-packaged food and use their reusable shopping bags, manufacturers would be more inclined to think about the type and the quantity of packaging around their products.