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Jul 10, 2007
Focus: Environment
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MPs sign up to the campaign against excess packaging

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Published: 27 April 2007

More than 100 MPs have backed The Independent's campaign against excessive packaging as political support grows for action to reduce the millions of tonnes of wrappers and cartons dumped in the nation's bins.

A Commons motion condemning the sheer waste of such large quantities of plastic and paper, and urging manufacturers to cut their use of packaging has been signed by 112 MPs from all parties and parts of the United Kingdom.

Now The Independent is calling for people to have their voice heard on the issue by lobbying their MP to join the protest.

A groundswell of parliamentary support for Early Day Motion 814 will show the Government the force of public opinion on the issue and increase the chances of legislation reaching the statute book.

Tabled a few days after we began our Campaign Against Waste on 22 January, EDM 814 commends the campaign against excessive packaging run by The Independent and calls on shops to tackle the problem and to encourage suppliers to do likewise.

It points out that packaging takes up 17 per cent of the annual food budget and generates 4.6 million tonnes of household rubbish a year.

So far, The Independent's campaign has exposed how scores of everyday products are over-packaged in wrappers, trays and cartons made from finite natural resources such as oil.

In a sign that pressure on the issue is increasing, two MPs who have signed are now threatening to table private members' Bills to eradicate unnecessary packaging once and for all.

One Bill would directly confront shops with the problems their waste causes by requiring them to take back packaging from shoppers. Another would tighten regulations that offer loopholes to manufacturers. Parliamentary questions and a Commons debate are also being planned.

The willingness of MPs to legislate is evidence of a hardening of attitudes among politicians to packaging, which is deeply unpopular with many voters.

Public concern has already forced retailers to show they are serious about halting the plastic detritus accumulated on shopping trips. The main supermarket groups have announced targets for reductions in packaging of between 5 and 25 per cent.

This week Sainsbury's put on sale 20,000 cotton bags by the designer Anya Hindmarch as an alternative to disposable bags, prompting shoppers to begin queuing at 2am. Yesterday, Asda announced that it was asking shoppers at two of its northern stores to dump unnecessary packaging in wheelie bins.

But MPs are concerned that the voluntary Courtauld commitment, agreed to by retailers to reduce packaging by 2010, does not go far enough. A survey of Easter eggs last month found that they consisted of as much as 90 per cent packaging.

Questions have been asked in Parliament about why statutory and voluntary measures have failed to prevent examples of excessive packaging appearing in almost every high street store.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, whose persistence led to the disclosure of MPs' travel expenses after a two-year battle, is one of the parliamentarians agitating for change. Mr Baker, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group, said: "I think the public out there and the MPs in here resent excess packaging."

A fellow campaigner, Andrew Stunnell MP, has introduced a 10-minute rule Bill that would allow customers to take back packaging to the shops. He intends to enshrine the proposal in a private members' Bill unless there is a dramatic improvement in packaging or a seismic political event alters his plans. Mr Stunnell said: "You and I are spending £470 on packaging each year which we throw away, which is not needed. And then someone else is paying a lot of landfill tax to put it in a hole in the ground, which is not needed.

"Putting a little bit of pressure on the commercial companies to act is what's needed."

Jo Swinson, of the Liberal Democrats, who tabled the EDM, is also considering bringing forward a bill.

"In six months' time there might be other pressing issues that come to the fore but I will be seriously, seriously considering packaging and be encouraging others to do so," she said.

First, the MP will investigate why only a handful of companies have been prosecuted under the 2003 Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations. The law is intended to prevent excess wrapping but has loopholes allowing excess waste where there is "consumer acceptance", or where it is needed to "provide identification" or for "stimulating purchase".

"We have got these regulations: why aren't they working?" asked Mrs Swinson. She and her fellow MPs will learn whether they can table legislation in November after the annual ballot of places for private members' bills.

In the meantime, Mrs Swinson intends to call a Commons debate on packaging that would be answered by a government minister.

"I think that packaging is something that increasingly resonates across society," she said.

"Every time you go to the supermarket checkout it confronts you. A lot of the time there are things going into bins that aren't even recyclable. And there's too much going in anyway."

Concern about levels of rubbish are shared by local politicians, who are facing a 33 per cent rise in landfill next year. Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils, warned yesterday that, at the present rate of dumping, landfill space would run out in nine years.

"Britain is the dustbin of Europe with more rubbish being thrown into landfill than any other country on the continent," Mr Bruce-Lockhart said. "For decades people have been used to being able to throw their rubbish away without worrying about environmental consequences or rising costs. Those days are now over."

The Early Day Motion and the MPs who have signed it

That this House notes with concern the excessive levels of packaging used by manufacturers and retailers, accounting for 4.6 million tonnes of household waste every year and 17 per cent of the average household food budget; commends the recent campaign against excessive packaging run by The Independent newspaper; and urges supermarkets to reduce where possible packaging on goods sold, encourage the re-use of plastic bags, recycle packaging waste and encourage suppliers to reduce packaging further up the supply chain.

The following 112 MPs have signed the Motion:

David Anderson Blaydon, Lab

Norman Baker Lewes, Lib Dem

Kevin Barron Rother Valley, Lab

AlanJ Beith Berwick-upon-Tweed, Lib Dem

Peter Bottomley Worthing West, Con

Tom Brake Carshalton and Wallington, Lib Dem

Colin Breed South East Cornwall, Lib Dem

Jeremy Browne Taunton, Lib Dem

Malcolm Bruce Gordon, Lib Dem

David Burrowes Enfield Southgate, Con

Lorely Burt Solihull, Lib Dem

John Butterfill Bournemouth West, Con

Vincent Cable Twickenham, Lib Dem

Gregory Campbell East Londonderry, DUP

Martin Caton Gower, Labour

Katy Clark North Ayrshire and Arran, Labour

Nick Clegg Sheffield Hallam, Lib Dem

Derek Conway Old Bexley and Sidcup, Con

Frank Cook Stockton North, Lab

Jeremy Corbyn Islington North, Lab

Stephen Crabb Preseli Pembrokeshire, Con

David Crausby Bolton North East, Lab

Ann Cryer Keighley, Lab

John Cummings Easington, Lab

Edward Davey Kingston and Surbiton, Lib Dem

Ian Davidson Glasgow South West, Lab

Dai Davies Blaenau Gwent, Ind

Janet Dean Burton, Lab

Andrew Dismore Hendon, Lab

Jeffrey Donaldson Lagan Valley, DUP

David Drew Stroud, Lab

Philip Dunne Ludlow, Con

Mark Durkan Foyle, Social Dem and Labour Party

Jeff Ennis Barnsley East and Mexborough, Lab

Bill Etherington Sunderland North, Lab

Nigel Evans Ribble Valley, Con

David Evennett Bexleyheath and Crayford, Con

Timothy Farron Westmorland and Lonsdale, Lib Dem

Lynne Featherstone Hornsley and Wood Green, Lib Dem

Don Foster Bath, Lib Dem

Neil Gerrard Walthamstow, Lab

Andrew George St Ives, Lib Dem

Sandra Gidley Romsey, Lib Dem

Julia Goldsworthy Falmouth and Camborne, Lib Dem

Mike Hancock Portsmouth South, Lib Dem

Nick Harvey N. Devon, Lib Dem

David Heath Somerton and Frome, Lib Dem

John Hemming Birmingham, Yardley, Lib Dem

David Heyes Ashton-under-Lyne, Lab

Sharon Hodgson Gateshead East and Washington West, Lab

Paul Holmes Chesterfield, Lib Dem

Kevin Hopkins Luton North, Lab

Lindsay Hoyle Chorley, Lab

Chris Huhne Eastleigh, Lib Dem

Mark Hunter Cheadle, Lib Dem

Brian Iddon Bolton South East, Lab

Glenda Jackson Hampstead and Highgate, Lab

Brain Jenkins Tamworth, Lab

Lynne Jones Birmingham Selly Oak, Lab

Daniel Kawczynski Shrewsbury and Atcham, Con

Charles Kennedy Ross Skye and Lochaber, Lib Dem

Robert Key Salisbury, Con

Susan Kramer Richmond Park, Lib Dem

Norman Lamb N. Norfolk, Lib Dem

David Laws Yeovil, Lib Dem

John Leech Manchester Withington, Lib Dem

David Lepper Brighton Pavilion, Lab

Tony Lloyd Manchester Cen., Lab

Elfyn Llwyd Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru

Tim Loughton East Worthing and Shoreham, Con

Rob Marris Wolverhampton South West, Lab

Gordon Marsden Blackpool South, Lab

Chris McCafferty Calder Valley, Lab

William McCrea S. Antrim, DUP

Alasdair McDonnell Belfast South, SDLP

John McDonnell Hayes and Harlington, Lab

Alan Meale Mansfield, Lab

Madeleine Moon Bridgend, Lab

Elliot Morley Scunthorpe, Lab

Greg Mulholland Leeds North West, Lib Dem

Doug Naysmith Bristol NW, Lab

Andrew Pelling Croydon Cen, Con

Mike Penning Hemel Hempstead, Con

Willie Rennie, Dunfermline and West Fife, Lib Dem

Paul Rowen Rochdale, Lib Dem

Joan Ruddock Lewisham Deptford, Lab

Bob Russell Colchester, Lib Dem

Martin Salter Reading W, Lab

Adrian Sanders Torbay, Lib Dem

Barry Sheerman Huddersfield, Lab

Alan Simpson Nottingham S, Lab

David Simpson Upper Bann, DUP

Peter Soulsby Leicester S, Lab

Bob Spink Castle Point, Con

Ian Stewart Eccles, Lab

Andrew Stunell Hazel Grove, Lib Dem

David Taylor North West Leicestershire, Lab

Matthew Taylor Truro and St Austell, Lib Dem

John Thurso Caithness Sunderland and Easter Ross, Lib Dem

Rudi Vis Finchley and Golders Green, Lab

Steve Webb Northavon, Lib Dem

Betty Williams Conway, Lab

Hywel Williams Caernarfon, Plaid Cymru

Mark Williams Ceredigion, Lib Dem

Roger Williams Brecon and Radnorshire, Lib Dem

Stephen Williams Bristol West, Lib Dem

Phil Willis Harrogate and Knaresborough, Lib Dem

Jenny Willott Cardiff Cen, Lib Dem

Nicholas Winterton Macclesfield, Con

Mike Wood Batley and Spen, Lab

Derek Wyatt Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Lab

Richard Younger-Ross Teignbridge, Lib Dem

Lobby your MP

* If you are fed up with receiving so much rubbish with your shopping, lobby your MP to sign Early Day Motion 814.

* You can contact your MP by email, post and phone or in person at the Commons, or in your constituency.

* The email address for MPs follows a formula; surname then initial @, so Hazel Blears' address is <>blearsh@ The postal address is House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. The Commons switchboard number is 020-7219 3000. Ask for your MP and you will be put through to their office.

* You also have a right to lobby your MP in person by turning up at Parliament and asking to see them. Alternatively, make an appointment by checking at your MP's constituency surgery.

As well as being irritating and unnecessary, excess packaging is a waste of resources, increases pollution, contributes to climate change, and squanders precious landfill space.

Commons voices

Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South

"If the supermarkets and the Government take no notice of The Independent's campaign, the next step will be for consumers to unpack goods and leave the packaging on the counter."

Mike Penning, Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead

"This is a complex issue and government has a role - but consumer pressure is the way we will tackle this."

Elliot Morley, Labour MP for Scunthorpe and former environment minister

"If we do not see reductions in waste and packaging, we are going to pay a high price."

Jo Swinson, Lib Dem MP for Dunbartonshire East

"Packaging is far too often not recyclable, and that's very frustrating for consumers."

Peter Ainsworth, shadow Environment Secretary

"Everywhere I go people are doing their best to try to reducewaste ... It is for industry to respond."

Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West

"As a former dustman it amazes me how much bigger the bins have grown ... That is partly due to the destructive way in which goods are packaged. I back The Independent's campaign to the hilt."

Chris Huhne, Lib Dem environment spokesman

"We should be looking at the possibility of legislation so that shops are required to take back packaging from consumers."
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Posted: Jul 10, 2007 1:32am


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