The move is an extension of a Tesco campaign that has already reduced packaging in many products. The idea is that by noting which products consumers remove packaging from, the company will know which products can be less packaged.
Product packaging is getting looked at closely in the UK, where the Local Government Association (LGA), a cross-party organization representing councils in England, is arguing that supermarkets should pay for the recycling costs of packaging from products they sell.
“We know that our customers want us to continue to reduce packaging,” said Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco executive director for Corporate and Legal Affairs. “At the same time we need to make sure that we are preventing unnecessary food waste. We are looking to find the least amount of packaging necessary and this trial will help us to establish customers’ views.”
Tesco says that it has more than 3,500 recycling, reduction and re-use projects currently underway which have diverted 87 percent of waste from its national store and distribution network away from landfill.
Among UK retailers, Tesco seems to be leading the race for less packaging – The British Market Research Bureau was commissioned by the LGA to look at eight supermarkets and the weight of food packaging they use in a typical shopping basket. The survey found that Tesco had the lightest load (645.5 grams).
In the U.S., Wal-Mart has been working to reduce packaging for years. At the Pack Expo 2008, Wal-Mart announced that it plans to expand its commitment to packaging source reduction and its Packaging Scorecard, despite a downturn in the economy.
But it’s not just retailers who are involved – although policies from big retailers, such as Wal-Mart, are affecting suppliers’ packaging policies. Companies across all industries, from computer makers to shoe retailers, are making major efforts towards sustainable packaging, not only to save the environment, but also to reduce costs. Computer maker Dell, for example, estimates a savings of more than $8 million and the elimination of approximately 20 million pounds of packaging material over the next four years. Kellogg is testing a shorter, deeper cereal box size and shape – made with 8% less packaging material.
Dow Chemical recently challenged other firms in the packaging supply chain to convert to recyclables. If 100 percent of packaging were recyclable, some of society’s great challenges could be addressed, said Glenn Wright, commercial vice president for Dow’s North American Basic Plastics business.
While less packaging helps retailers efficiency efforts, it’s not clear what effect it has on purchase decisions. Brand marketers are focusing more attention on environmentally friendly packaging, but environmental considerations for shoppers generally are secondary to overall package appearance and functional concerns, according to recent research.