Open any child's lunchbox and what do you see? A sandwich double-wrapped in plastic and cardboard; a carton of juice with a sealed straw, from a plastic-bound multipack; a cake bar wrapped in foil from a cardboard-lined, plastic-wrapped 12 pack and, worst of all, an individually-packaged piece of fruit. A total surfeit of packaging.
In 2003 the British public threw away 25.8m tonnes of household waste, a third of which was packaging from food and drink. This figure has risen by 15% in the past five years, primarily because of a shift towards convenience foods and disposable goods. Seventy five per cent of it ends up in landfill sites -- taking up to 300 years to break down.
It is not realistic to expect the food industry to do away with packaging altogether. It plays an important role in protecting and prolonging the life of produce, ensuring a higher percentage is acceptable for the shop floor. Not forgetting its role as a marketing tool.
Educating the consumer about environmentally-friendly shopping and recycling is one way of reducing household waste, but it's vital the food industry makes broad changes, too. We need a shift towards manufacturers using the minimum packaging required to get products to consumers undamaged, with the least environmental impact.
Manufacturers and retailers can play their part by demanding sustainable packaging and influencing customer recycling by providing facilities and incentives. Several supermarkets have already taken up the initiative; Tesco has introduced potato and corn starch packaging which degrades rapidly; the Co-op recently announced it will phase in degradable bread bags, and last year Sainsbury tested a range of plastic sacks made from tapioca starch which took just 28 days to break down.
The UK uses the greatest quantity of packaging in Europe -- not something to be proud of. Other European nations have tackled the waste problem and seen real results. In Germany, where industry must take back and recycle all used packaging, there has been a cut-back of 1m tonnes. Isn't it time for Britain to tackle the rubbish mountain?
is a food writer at Good Housekeeping Magazine,