Saturday, September 09, 2006


Shoppers will soon be able to compost ready-meal packs and fruit and vegetable wrappers alongside grass clippings and food waste as shops try to woo green-minded customers. Sainsbury's fired the latest salvo in the war to be the most environment-friendly supermarket today when it made available 500 of its ready-meal brands and organic fruit and vegetables in compostable packing. The change - highly likely to be followed by the other retailers - will remove the millions of plastic bags and trays that are currently dumped in landfill sites and cut thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming.

The offensive is also part of the supermarkets' drive to boost their green credentials. Where once these companies attracted customers by slashing prices on staple goods and petrol, they are now determined to attract the growing number of ethical shoppers. Asda has already moved its food distribution from road to rail to cut down emissions and Tesco, which is following suit, has a scheme that awards customers loyalty points for recycling or using fewer carrier bags.

Supermarket bosses are also keen to woo the estimated one in three of households interested in home composting. A bottle-green logo of an arrow piercing an apple is to appear on all Sainsbury compostable packs, and this could be taken up by companies to highlight the green message. The packs will be made from maize, sugar cane or starch packaging, which breaks down into carbon dioxide and water. This provides organic material that is excellent for bringing out moisture in the soil. If the compostable packs are placed in compost pile in a sunny position in the garden, they may break down in a fortnight. Generally the bigger the heap, the faster the process. Gardeners have been particularly keen on composting this summer because of the drought and the hosepipe bans.

The initiative may force the Government to review its waste strategy. Today, councils have an incentive to collect green waste rather than to promote home composting. They have been told to recycle the highest possible tonnages, which has resulted in green waste collection becoming the fastest growing form of recycling, growing to 400,000 tonnes last year from 20,000 tonnes in 1997. Experts have estimated that the green wheelie bins have generated an extra 300lb of green waste per household a year when most of it could easily be used on a garden. The Waste Resources Action Programme, which advises ministers on waste, believes it should promote home composting.

Almost half of all organic fruit and vegetables will be sold in compostable packs at Sainsbury's from this week, rising to 80 per cent by next January. All ready meal packs will be compostable within a year. Justin King, Sainsbury's chief executive, called on rival supermarkets to follow suit and for the Government to give every home a free compost bin. He said: "Our customers tell us that food packaging is extremely important to them. We're confident that putting 500 types of our food in compostable packaging will significantly help to reduce the packaging that most threatens the environment."

Jane Gilbert, of the Composting Association, said that she hoped every household would now be given information on how to compost at home. She said that there were no health problems with compost piles of food or compostable packaging but that if compost piles were too small it could take six months for waste to break down into organic matter. A good average size for a household compost bin was about a metre squared, she said.


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