Food industry slow to develop environmental awareness

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Environmentalism

Environmental awareness among UK small and medium-sized food and drink enterprises (SMEs) still lags behind most other sectors, despite improved...

Environmental awareness among UK small and medium-sized food and drink enterprises (SMEs) still lags behind most other sectors, despite improved sensitivity to such issues, according to an Environment Agency supported survey.

The SME-nvironment survey just published on the NetRegs.gov.uk website reveals an 80% rise in environmental awareness among SMEs in the sector, from 5% to 9% awareness between 2005 and 2007. However, these figures put the sector far behind most other industry sectors, where the average awareness level is now 15%.

The NetRegs study shows a growing number of food and drink manufacturers are concerned about the environment and are taking action to curb their environmental impact. Forty-one per cent now have an environmental policy in place, ahead of the cross-sector average of 40% and up from the 35% recorded for the sector in 2005. Food and drink SMEs are also trying to minimise their environmental impact through measures including recycling (mentioned by 64%), waste minimisation (16%) and energy efficiency or water reduction (21%).

Paul Haigney, operations director at Pasta King, Devon, said: “Despite being a small business, we are determined to face up to our environmental responsibility and take measures to transform the impact our business has on the environment. We have changed our packaging format and invested in new production equipment. As a result we have significantly reduced the amount of waste we send to landfill and are reaping financial savings of up to £120,000 per year.”

However, the low level of initial awareness across the sector suggests small food and drink manufacturers remain unaware of how their business practices affect the environment. It also indicates that they need more advice from environmental regulators and local authorities to avoid prosecution. Just 9% realised that they took part in activities that could harm the environment, from producing or importing packaging to storing chemicals, fuels, oils and waste.

NetRegs.gov.uk’s survey revealed that 31% of food and drink manufacturing SMEs were aware of their specific legal obligations compared with an average for SMEs across all sectors of just 24%. However, only half in the food sector were able to name the Packaging Waste Regulations.

Richard Martin, NetRegs programme manager, said: “There is a growing will among small and medium-sized food and drink businesses to protect the environment through improved business practices. But with limited time at their disposal, many still don’t understand what they need to do.”

New Landfill Regulations take effect on October 30, so it is crucial for SMEs in the sector to get guidance on their environmental obligations and ensure they comply with the law, said NetRegs. For instance, the survey showed that 39% of SME manufacturers were found to store waste - a potentially harmful activity which many of those questioned did not think of as such.

For more details of relevant environmental legislation visit NetRegs​.

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