Plastic packaging

It’s brilliant news that nearly 50 of the UK’s biggest grocery players have signed up to the Plastic Pact. The cynic in me says the industry had little choice, as the government and its demagogic ‘environment secretary’ Michael Gove plays to the court of popular opinion (while wielding a barely concealed stick), but how quickly the tide can turn.

Yet putting pen to paper is one thing. It’s going to be much harder to keep these disparate players in the same room - and hard to measure what counts as success, too.

Already the failure of Iceland and the Co-op to sign up to the pact shows the political minefield this is. Are they signing up because they believe their targets are more stretching, or because they want to be seen to lead the response?

It has always been this way on the big issues in grocery: agreeing on the key approaches is impossible, because for each player the situation is different, there’s a competitive advantage to be had from taking a different stance, and there are egos to manage.

That said, it is surely through the industry coming together that the necessary packaging investments will be made on innovation and new technologies.

As one supermarket boss said of Iceland’s splendid ice-o-lation, “good luck to them, they have gone for leadership on this issue”, but nobody is big enough to do this on their own.

The other question mark is over funding. The circular economy Wrap espouses won’t work without major investment in the UK’s patchy recycling facilities. Can the government really ask the industry, tasked with developing new substrates new processes, and new behaviours, to pay for these too?

As important as it is to tackle the plastics conundrum, food waste remains an issue in urgent need of attention, too. So I’m thrilled that with a week until it closes, The Grocer’s Waste Not Want Not petition has passed its 10,000-signature target.

Thanks to all of you who signed the petition, the government now has no choice but to respond to our common sense demands, taking us a step closer to unlocking access to some 200,000 tonnes of edible food in the supply chain currently being diverted away from hungry mouths.

With your help, we’ve made huge strides forward since our Waste Not Want Not campaign launched nearly two years ago, with a raft of businesses setting up new initiatives. But some of the core structural barriers to getting food where it needs to be - on people’s plates - remain in place. The high cost of food redistribution is one of those: businesses pay up to £150 per tonne to separate, store and transport surplus food, leaving it beyond the financial reach of thousands of SMEs.

Our plan will address that problem cheaply and effectively and at zero risk, turning a £15m subsidy into food surplus worth an estimated £150m in savings to the charities who could use it.

But let’s not stop at 10,000. The more signatures we have the more attention Michael Gove will likely give this proposal. And we desperately need his full attention to stand a hope of convincing him and the government this is worth a shot.