DTI disguises true picture on packaging waste

Figures given by Industry Minister Alun Michael in response to a parliamentary question by Liberal Democrat spokesman Norman Baker give the impression that the amount of packaging waste is falling - when the opposite is the case.1

Mr Baker asked what percentage change in the amount of food and drink packaging has followed the implementation of the packaging (essential requirements) regulations 2003.

The regulations, which require packaging companies to take into account requirements such as material minimisation, were originally introduced in 1998. Although they are criticised as ineffectual by environmental groups, the Department of Trade and Industry claims they have brought environmental improvements (ENDS Report 347, p 31 ).

Referring to a data note produced by the Environment Department in July 2004, Mr Michael said that since 1998 the amount of packaging flowing into the UK waste stream has dropped from 10.2 million tonnes to 10.1 million tonnes in 2003, even though consumption of the packaged product has increased.

However, the data note makes it clear that the 1998 figure was a provisional estimate only. According to the document, total packaging waste has increased every year from 9.19 million tonnes in 1999 to 10.06 million tonnes in 2003, and is forecast to continue rising each year until at least 2008.

DEFRA's most recent estimates, included in a March 2005 consultation paper on amendments to the packaging regulations, paint an even worse picture, with packaging waste forecast to reach 11.3 million tonnes in 2008 - a 23% increase since 1999 (ENDS Report 363, pp 49-50 ).