Business leaders reject carbon labelling idea for packaging

Proposals for a product labelling system that would inform consumers of the carbon footprint of its packaging have been roundly dismissed during a sustainability debate.

The idea of a universal metric to enable consumers to make informed purchasing decisions about the “carbon calories” of packaged products was put forward at yesterday’s Big Packaging Debate, held at Birmingham’s Packaging Innovations show (February 29).

However a panelist of experts representing retailers, packaging designers and research bodies agreed the concept would be too complex to implement and even confusing for shoppers.

Sainsbury’s head of packaging & design Stuart Lendrum said: “I don’t see a point where we’ll have such a metric on-pack – it doesn’t help and is meaningless for the consumer.”

But he added: “What we do need is something like that at product system level which will allow us to focus on hotspots during lifecycle analysis.”

Tom Heap, a freelance broadcaster, said the idea was a “total chimera” and wouldn’t happen as any such labelling would have to take into account how the consumer would use the product, which would be almost impossible to measure.

“The public, retailer and manufacturer would all have to get involved in the decision. For instance, should pre-cooked potatoes have a lower carbon level than raw ones? The consumer could potentially put a lot more energy into cooking a raw potato than a manufacturer would during the production process.”

Meanwhile Dr John Williams, head of materials for energy at NNFCC – the UK’s national centre for biorenewable energy, fuels and materials – said it was “an interesting question” as some sort of level playing field for benchmarking needed to be established.

He added: “There is currently no good comparison system, but I would be a bit dubious about such a universal labelling system.”

Maxine Perella

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