Marks & Spencer has admitted it may not fulfil its Plan A pledge to ensure all packaging can be easily recycled or composted by 2012.
Speaking at the industry's monthly Food Club meeting, senior packaging technologist Dr Mark Caul told The Grocer the target was unrealistic because of the poor state of the UK's recycling infrastructure.
"I'm not sure if we're going to make it. Whenever I look at this target I want to shoot myself," he said.
Local councils would not have the necessary facilities by 2012 to ensure all of M&S's packaging could be disposed of properly unless they received additional funding, he warned.
"Funding is low in local authorities for recycling facilities and it is hard for them to start increasing taxes," he said. "We need to improve the infrastructure and the supply chain needs to improve."
Incineration of waste could be a solution and was "fairly clean", he said. "To get energy from waste sounds like a good idea."
Green groups have long dismissed incineration, claiming it is not an environmentally friendly alternative to recycling, but the government insists incineration is a clean technology and could be used to a greater extent along with recycling.
Caul said M&S had had considerable success in other areas of the Plan A eco-plan and was on target to meet its other waste commitments. Steps such as removing unnecessary plastic wrapping on vegetables such as swedes had helped save waste, and Easter egg packaging had been cut this year. Simple steps such as replacing sleeves on packets with labels had saved 180 tonnes of plastic, he said.
But a trial in one London store where most produce was displayed loose had not worked, said Caul.
"Customers just went to the other side of the store for the pre-packed produce," he said.
His job was made harder by consumer perceptions of packaging, he added. "If my target is to reduce packaging, the best thing is to convert to plastic. But people think plastic is the devil and cardboard is cuddly and friendly. But this perception could be changed with education," said Caul.