Trading Standards not equipped to fight excess packaging

40% of Trading Standards offices have taken up complaints over excess packaging, but many feel ill-equipped to pursue cases, according to new research by Jo Swinson.

Jo Swinson has carried out a survey of 200 Trading Standards offices, asking for details of complaints received, cases resolved by mediation and numbers of prosecutions for over-packaging.

Key findings from the survey include:

• Nearly 200 cases about excess packaging were recorded or pursued in the past year by Trading Standards officers.

• 40% of Trading Standards branches surveyed received complaints about excess packaging.

• Just 4 prosecutions for excess packaging were recorded by Trading Standards officers.

Jo will meet Environment Minister Joan Ruddock today to discuss the contents of her Private Members Bill on packaging, the Packaging (Reduction) Bill, which was presented to Parliament in October 2007.

Commenting ahead of the meeting, Jo said:

“Hard-working Trading Standards officers are charged with policing excess packaging, but despite their dedication, they aren’t being given the tools to do an effective job.

“Since the regulations governing acceptable packaging levels were introduced a decade ago, there have been just 4 prosecutions of excess packagers. Obviously prosecutions are not unique or ideal as a measure of success, but it is clearly hugely challenging for Trading Standards officers to build a case for enforcement using the rules as they stand.

“If a producer can find any evidence that sales would drop due to a packaging size reduction, then it can use packaging larger than necessary. This leads to a packaging arms race, with ever-bigger branded boxes jostling for space on supermarket shelves. The consumer is left to pick up the tab for the packaging, as well as its disposal.

“When we debated these issues in Parliament recently, the Minister agreed that the packaging regulations are flawed. I will be calling for action to rebalance the law in favour of Trading Standards when we discuss these issues face-to-face today.”

In a House of Commons debate on supermarkets on 24th April 2008, DEFRA Minister Joan Ruddock said: “The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) raised questions about the packaging regulations. We agree with her. The essential requirements do not work. We have asked for a review, but progress is slow. We are pursuing the matter all the time because we want more to be done.”

The Packaging (Reduction) Bill was presented to Parliament as a 10 Minute Rule Bill in October 2007.

The proposals in the Bill include:

o Improvements to packaging regulations to assist the work of Trading Standards officers;

o Consumers to be given powers to deposit packaging in supermarkets for recycling before leaving the store;

o Binding targets for packaging reduction in place of existing voluntary targets.

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