Packaging Industry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 5th July 2011.

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Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby 11:00 am, 5th July 2011

I want to address that point a bit later. My hon. Friend is right. All we end up doing is moving more product around rather than manufacturing it in the place where it would be most sensible to do so. In that movement, we generate additional carbon dioxide.

On business investment plans, one of the key things that business needs to do is to estimate future costs of raw materials and energy, of which energy is often the most significant. There is already an account of the Business Secretary having had his ears burned by industry leaders about energy costs. If other countries do not follow our lead, the concern is that packaging manufacturers might move away from their UK bases. A number of people involved in the industry have said that a large proportion of UK plants producing packaging are now owned by companies that are based overseas and that if energy prices or regulation in the UK become excessive, there is no reason why those overseas-based multinationals would continue to keep those businesses in the UK.

Let me touch now on the standards under which imported products are manufactured. Manufacturers based in the UK, particularly those involved in producing packaging for food, incur costs by ensuring that they are compliant with all relevant food safety and hygiene legislation, but that is not the case for competitors based outside the EU, which puts UK-based manufacturers at an economic disadvantage. If such packaging is supplied without the recognised accreditation concerning EU food safety and hygiene, the concern is that there could be health risks to consumers.

Another strand of my argument relates to packaging products being seen as an obstacle to a greener environment and a greener economy. The Prime Minster has pledged to make this the greenest Government ever. One of the ways in which the Government aim to achieve that is by reducing the amount of packaging used and encouraging even more recycling. The industry accepts that its product is highly visible; we see it around us all the time. None the less, its environmental impact is much less than many would presume. Less than 3% of land-filled waste is packaging waste, despite the fact that 18% of household waste comes from packaging. It is accepted that packaging is visible because of litter. By definition litter is waste that happens to be in the wrong place. It is created by individuals through thoughtless or antisocial behaviour. The industry has a responsibility regarding litter, but it argues that litter should be addressed by education, investment in street cleaning and law enforcement.

The problem is that packaging attracts media attention. I would present Jeremy Paxman as a witness. Only the other day, he spoke on Radio 5 Live as chair of the Clean Up Britain campaign and railed against manufacturers of packaging. The industry argues that the attention that it receives is disproportionate and that packaging should be seen not as a problem but rather as a resource-efficiency solution. Given all the media attention, the packaging industry feels that it has become an easy target for those who wish to present their green credentials.

The emphasis on packaging and the environment has been recognised in the waste policy review, which was recently published by the Government. That review outlines the Government’s determination to move towards a zero-waste economy by relying more on voluntary approaches to cutting waste, increasing recycling and resource productivity and improving the overall quality of recyclates.

Broadly, the industry is pleased that the review acknowledged the valuable role that packaging plays and that, in most cases, the carbon footprint of packaging is absolutely dwarfed by that of the products that it protects. However, there is a view within the industry that the review continues to pander to public misperceptions about packaging, as it draws attention to surveys that show that consumers believe packaging remains a big environmental question. The industry is disappointed that the review does not attempt to challenge some of those misconceptions.

The industry believes that, to challenge such misconceptions about waste, customers need to understand that good food packaging reduces food waste, which in turn saves people money through lower grocery bills and reduces the amount of unused food that is sent to landfill or composting. The review refers at some length to the need for packaging to be improved further, but it focuses on toy packaging. Unfortunately, toy packaging makes up only 0.36% of packaging in the UK and it is mostly used for imported goods, over which we have no control in the UK. In addition, the review pays a lot of attention to waste prevention, with the announcement of new initiatives and funding, and it also has a stated aim of reducing food waste. Some organisations have praised the review for making commitments to work with businesses to help them to reduce wastage, rather than carrying on the old practice of handing out penalties to companies that fail to comply with legislation.

Broadly, the industry believes that it can work with the Government on the waste policy review. Dick Searle, chief executive of the Packaging Federation, has said:

“It looks like there’s nothing unexpected in here and it’s all reasonably logical. I’m sure the industry will appreciate the light touch approach. I’m very pleased to see the reference to packaging being ‘dwarfed’ by product in terms of carbon footprint. Overall, it looks like government has been listening.”

Perhaps we might consider that response from an industry to Government plans as a refreshing one.