Last week, in a blaze of media attention, Sainsbury’s announced that it would be replacing 3,550 tonnes of oil-based plastic packaging with compostable alternatives, such as plastics derived from sugarcane, cornstarch and cellulose.
“Our customers tell us that they don’t want any GM products,” said Stuart Lendrum, the retailer’s print and packaging manager. He told PRW.com that Sainsbury’s will not use polylactic acid (PLA) made from genetically modified (GM) crops in its packaging.
At present, Sainsbury’s is not using any PLA in its compostable packaging. But Lendrum would not be drawn on whether Sainsbury’s was in discussions with any suppliers of non-GM PLA.
The move by Sainsbury’s is the latest round in the ‘green wars’ between Britain’s giant retailers. IKEA recently said it was switching over to biodegradable plastic carrier bags, but PRW understands that Sainsbury’s has no such plans.
Britain’s third largest retailer, Sainsbury’s is pushing for more home composting of waste packaging, and has called on the government to ensure that every home in Britain has a compost bin.
Lendrum said that, as well as compostability, Sainsbury’s is also pushing for readily recyclable packaging. This is where the challenge lies for the plastics industry, he said. Lendrum explained that he is often told by producers that a plastic is recyclable, but feels that this is “technically irrelevant” if a customer can’t recycle the material easily.
The British Plastics Federation, however, is not convinced by the merits of the latest initiative by Sainsbury’s. Director General Peter Davis said: “The development of biodegradable plastics represents an important innovation with a part to play, but the full environmental costs of growing and processing crops into packaging need to be born in mind.”
“Furthermore, depending on the packaging type, composting can produce increased carbon dioxide and methane emissions, both greenhouse gases. To divert more waste from landfill, we need to consider all the options, including increased recycling and energy-from-waste capacity.”
PRW.com Sept. 15, 2006.