Britain Seeks Sparer Food Packaging

Britain's environmental minister, Ben Bradshaw, talks about how people can protest excessive packaging in grocery stores. The British government is trying to induce major food retailers there to reduce the amount of packaging that envelops food.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Buy those vegetables in a grocery store these days and you sometimes take home more plastic packaging than food. Now, the British government has been trying to induce major food retailers there to reduce the amount of packaging that envelops food. The U.K.'s minister for environment, marine and animal welfare, Ben Bradshaw, joins us from his home.

Mr. Bradshaw, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BEN BRADSHAW (Environment Marine and Animal Welfare Minister): Pleasure.

SIMON: And what have you gotten the likes of Marks and Spencer, Boots and Tescos to do?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, we've got them to sign up to a voluntary agreement to stop the growth in packaging within the next 18 months or two years, and then for the two years following that, to achieve real reductions in absolute packaging. Packaging is the one part of our waste stream in the United Kingdom which is still growing, while we're managing to reduce the rest of our waste.

SIMON: Now, you have had in the past a pretty dramatic suggestion for people who are shopping in a store, who don't appreciate the amount of packaging and want to do something about it.

Mr. BRADSHAW: Yes. I've never had so much interest since I've been in politics for this little bit of direct action advice, which is that if you're really disgusted by the amount of packaging on a product, leave it at the checkout for the supermarkets to deal with, rather than having to take it home. I think it really reflects the feeling that the public have here. We're constantly trying to persuade our voters to recycle more, to minimize the waste they produce. It's very galling for them then, whenever they go shopping, to find themselves literally bombarded with produce that they consider to be excessively or over-packaged.

SIMON: What if you've just bought a nice piece of Dover sole or a leg of lamb, though?

Mr. BRADSHAW: I can see that there could be significant problems, Scott, with dripping blood out of a nice leg of lamb, or even some kind of fishy juice coming out of an unwrapped piece of fish. No, no. I'm not saying that there's not a need for packaging, and some packaging is necessary to protect produce. It's just excessive packaging that I and the British public seem to have had enough of.

SIMON: Is there any particular bit of packaging, Mr. Bradshaw, that just drives you nutso?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, we have really delicious English apples on sale. Most of the retailers are perfectly happy to sell these apples loose. But in some of our supermarkets you find not only very heavily wrapped in cellophane, but then placed on individual polystyrene bases to protect them. Now, that, I think, in my view, is pretty ridiculous. The other item that a lot of people here get excited about at a different time of year are Easter eggs. We have these huge colored cardboard boxes with a very small chocolate egg mounted on a plinth almost, itself wrapped in cellophane or silver foil. And again, it looks very nice and the kids really go for them, but do we really need them to be quite so packaged? I don't think so.

SIMON: Mr. Bradshaw, thank you very much and may all your unwrapping be happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRADSHAW: Great pleasure to talk to you, Scott. Bye bye.

SIMON: Ben Bradshaw, the U.K.'s minister for environment, marine and animal welfare.

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