Supermarkets hold key to "Buy Recycled" campaign

Support from the major supermarkets will be crucial to the success of the nation-wide "Buy Recycled" campaign, according to its organisers, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC). The campaign will attempt to boost public interest in recycled products by placing a "buy recycled" logo on collection banks, boxes and vehicles and on products on supermarket shelves. Asda and Sainsbury's are exploring ways of increasing the use of recyclate in non-food packaging.

The lack of measures to stimulate new markets for recycled material has characterised Government policy to increase waste recovery. In 1993, a parliamentary inquiry was told by Waste Watch and the National Recycling Forum (NRF) that the UK was failing to learn from the mistakes of the German packaging regulations by pursuing waste recovery without developing markets for recyclate (ENDS Report 227, pp 28-29 ).

To compensate for the lack of policy on markets, the NRF established a group of businesses and local authorities in 1994 which promised to increase their purchases of recycled products and paid £1,000 to join the Buy Recycled programme. Founder members included Bass Brewers, Safeway Stores, B&Q, Nestle and Sainsbury's (ENDS Report 239, p 25 ).

However, apart from the publication of a recycled products directory, the programme achieved little before the NRF was absorbed within Waste Watch earlier this year. The original intention had been to conduct an annual benchmark survey of how much companies were spending on recycled products and materials - but when approached by ENDS in 1996, most firms were unable to provide any information.

This time round, the campaign is organised by LARAC, following a pilot programme launched in July 1997 by Essex County Council and supported by Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Safeway. A "buy recycled" logo has been registered as a trademark and supplied to LARAC's 330 local authority members to be stuck on recycling banks, vehicles, boxes and promotional material. Companies can join the campaign for a £120 fee, and can then apply to use the logo on products or packaging containing post-consumer waste.

According to Paula Brooks, Waste Minimisation and Recycling Officer for Essex County Council and chairman of the campaign's executive committee, an increase in Essex's household waste recycling rate from 5% to 8% in the 12 months after the campaign was started was partly due to the campaign. However, it failed to increase the amount of recyclate used in products because "all the retailers didn't know what they sold or how much recyclate they used."

Another two retailers, Somerfield and Homebase, have joined the campaign, but Ms Brooks says it has been difficult getting retailers on board. "The only supermarket we haven't been able to have a one to one with is Tesco. It may have been too busy because it has been trying to develop its own recycling infrastructure."

The key to evaluating the campaign's success will be the measurement and reporting of data on changes in the use of recyclate by manufacturers and retailers. "A lot of blue chip companies said they were core members of the NRF's Buy Recycled programme but never turned up to meetings or knew how much recyclate was in the products they sold," said Ms Brooks. "We hope to avoid free riders this time by requiring members to demonstrate their use of recyclate with a waste audit trail. We will also steer the logo away from products with minimal recycled content once we tighten up the standard in 2000."

The campaign has already received seven requests from manufacturers to use the logo. They include fencing and furniture producers and Plysu, which makes plastic compost bins.

Asda and Sainsbury's are taking the most proactive approach and are looking at ways of increasing their use of recyclate. According to Asda's Trading Standards Manager, Gordon Maddan, a series of minimum recycled content requirements will be set next year, mainly for non-food plastic and board packaging. No decision has been made whether to use the logo on own brands. Sainsbury's is also concentrating on non-food applications, said Group Waste Manager James McKechnie, "where cost and quality permit".

Safeway intends to arrange promotional displays in some of its stores in conjunction with local authorities and will monitor the effect on sales. However, "increasing recycled content may not always be the best option," said Environmental Affairs Manager Nicola Ellen, "because it could increase the amount of material used. Packaging policy should first focus on reduction and reuse."

Waitrose is considering joint promotions with local councils and use of the logo on its own brands but will not make any decisions until next year. The company already uses the EC eco-label on its own-brand recycled toilet tissue and may feel that using both labels could confuse customers.

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