ANALYSIS: Courtauld 2 throws up supply chain waste and end-market concerns

The grocery retail and manufacturing sector is making significant progress towards cutting food and packaging waste - despite supply chain challenges and the loss of end-market materials.

That is according to industry reaction based on WRAP’s latest report on the second phase of the Courtauld Commitment. As part of the voluntary agreement, started in 2005, signatories including Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Nestle and Coca Cola have committed to reduce their food waste and packaging.

As a result, tough waste reduction targets have been put in place within the grocery retail supply chain to be met by 2012. However, concerns have been raised over the lack of end-markets in the UK for materials that have been recovered from this process.

Closed Loop Recycling’s managing director Chris Dow, said that reprocessors face a “ludicrous situation” whereby exporters of these resources are paid a subsidy to send the material off-shore and warned it was damaging the potential to produce sustainable packaging materials in the UK.

He said: “Whilst Courtauld has certainly focused brand owners and retailers on the massive carbon benefits of using recycled content, we still have the issue of the loss of thousands of tonnes of bottles to the export market, thus restricting the supply of valuable rPET to Britain’s packaging industry.”

Meanwhile the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) head of environment Bob Gordon said that some supply chain issues still needed to be addressed.

Speaking exclusively to edieWaste, he said: “Waste within the supply chain is a particular challenge because preventing it can require investment and for businesses to introduce new processes.” However he added that ground work was being done which will lead to “bigger improvements in the near future”.

From the consumer perspective, Gordon said that the current financial climate has had an impact on food waste, which poses an interesting question in terms of how attitudes to waste will continue to change and whether it will lead to environmental and policy change.

To further support waste reduction, Gordon said that more consistency in local waste collection and food waste collections was required to give consumers better transparency going forwards.

However, some smaller retailers have argued that many businesses have been reducing packaging waste for years – mainly as a result of financial pressures. One such company is Somerset-based Severn Delta, which produces Sarah Smith home textiles and crystal deodorant PitROK.

Its managing director Clive Birnie said: “It’s great news that business has embraced green ethics, but what I have found is businesses say privately that they have been reducing packaging for years, but for cost reasons. We have reduced the weight by 40% at Sarah Smith because we wanted to minimise packaging but also there was an undeniable cost benefit involved.”

Key findings from the WRAP report shows that in the first year of the phase 2 Courtauld Commitment, signatories are halfway to achieving a three-year packaging reduction target of 10%, with a 5.1% packaging reduction recorded. Household food and drink waste was found to have been reduced by 3% – on course for an overall three year reduction of 4%.

As a new area for the commitment, supply chain product and packing waste fell just 0.4% against a 5% three year target. As a result, WRAP said it plans to focus on this area in order to meet commitment targets.

However grocery supply chain waste was found to have performed well in diverting waste from landfill, with a 40% reduction reported over the period, with much of the waste sent to renewable energy production using anaerobic digestion.

Commenting on the findings, Defra Environment Minister Lord Taylor said that it was clear that more work needed to be done to reduce waste in the supply chain. He said: “I will be pushing for industry to build on their efforts to make sure we meet these goals over the next two years.”

Meanwhile WRAP’s design & waste prevention director, Dr Richard Swannell, said that the next step was to build on the work already done by sharing best practice to encourage rapid change, particularly around waste within the supply chain.

Carys Matthews

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