A government survey showing that 40 per cent of UK food packaging cannot be recycled will add to the pressure on manufacturers to make the switch
EU-wide recycling regulations set targets for each member country, whose governments must then reach those rates over a set number of years. In the UK, the responsibility has devolved to local councils.
The pressure on UK food and drink processors, some of the largest producers of packaging, is mirrowed across the bloc.
The UK's Local Government Association, made up of regional government representitives, commissioned the survey as a means of determining whether more effort is needed to reduce landfill waste.
"Supermarkets must take urgent action to reduce excessive packaging or Britain will fail to meet its recycling targets," the council leaders concluded in releasing the survey today.
The British Market Research Bureau (BMRB), which did the research for the councils, found that five per cent of the total weight of the average shopping basket was made up of packaging.
Retailers considered to be the most environmentally friendly were found to have low levels of packaging, a high proportion of which was recyclable.
An average Lidl shopping basket had 799.5g on average, making it the supermarket with the heaviest packaging.
Meanwhile about 60 per cent of the packaging in a Marks & Spencer basket could not be recycled, making it the least green of the retailers.
Asda was the best performing supermarket, with packaging weighing 714g on average per basket, 70 per cent of which was recyclable.
But the market was the best overall, with packaging weighing 710.5g, 79 per cent recyclable.
Many supermarkets are taking action to cut back on excessive packaging, but the research proves there is an urgent need to do more, said Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA's environment board.
"Councils and council tax payers are facing fines of up to £3b if we do not dramatically reduce the amount of waste thrown into landfill," he stated.
Recycling rates in Britain have been increasing, with consumers becoming aware of the problem and a slow tightening of regulations and potential fines on businesses.
Councils are also extending and improving their recycling services. By pressuring the supermarkets the LGA is also transfering responsibility up the food chain to processors.
Last week the Waste and Resource Action Programme (Wrap) reported that over the past year an extra 5.8m tonnes of extra annual recycling capacity had been created.
Wrap also reported that new infrastructure was also in place to recycle about 86m tonnes of material over its lifetime.
Wrap is a UK national agency set up by government to co-ordinate the reduction of landfill volumes,
Wrap also reported on work in areas such as overcoming technical barriers to allow recycled plastic to be used for milk bottles, creating an industry-wide agreement in the retail sector to take action on packaging, and developing quality standards for materials such as recycled paper and compost.
About 24 major retailers and manufacturers are now working with Wrap to reduce waste by 160,000 tonnes by 2008.
Britvic, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Dairy Crest, Duchy Originals, Masterfoods, McBride, Nestle and Premier Foods are among the companies that have made commitments to the programme.
Tougher packaging waste targets in the UK are due to come into effect in January, according to proposals unveiled this month by the country's environmental minister.
The new business targets would come into effect in January 2008 to help the UK meet its obligations under the EU's packaging directive.
The proposals would require more packaging to be recovered and recycled. Government also proposes setting higher targets for 2009 and beyond to increase the level of recovery and recycling.
After 2008 member states have the discretion to set targets beyond the minimum required under an EU agreement.
Since the introduction of the UK packaging regulations recycling has increased significantly, from to 57 per cent last year, from 27 per cent in 1997, according to national government statistics.
The EU minimum recycling target is 55 per cent. The target for recovery is 60 per cent.
The UK government wants to increase the recycling target to 55.7 per cent in 2008, 56.8 per cent in 2009 and 58.4 per cent in 2010. The recovery target would be 60.6 per cent, 61.8 per cent and 63.4 per cent in the same years.