UK packaging scandals: Top five round-up

Deborah Williams 9 May 2019 (Last Updated May 9th, 2019 16:49)

The packaging world is not without its scandals, from incorrectly or inadequately labelled food products to plastic waste pollution. Packaging Gateway takes a look at some of the worst packaging scandals in the UK over the past five years.

UK packaging scandals: Top five round-up
UK packaging scandals: Top five round-up. Credit: Engin_Akyurt via Pixabay

1) Pret a Manger labelling

Potentially the highest profile scandal on this list, the Pret a Manger labelling scandal was triggered by the deaths of Natasha Edan-Laperouse and Celia Marsh, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, who unknowingly consumed incorrectly-labelled Pret products.

After calls were made for Pret to further regulate its labelling, the sandwich and café chain rolled out its new Five-Point Allergy Plan, which includes its national full ingredient food packaging labels, earlier this month.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has now recommended that food outlets should increase allergen information on all pre-packed foods for direct sale to consumers in the UK, including the 14 major allergens.

 

2) UK plastic packaging waste landfill scandal

In 2018, more than half of the UK’s plastic packaging waste sent overseas for recycled was found to be dumped in landfill sites in countries such as Turkey and Malaysia.

The National Audit Office (NAO) reported that the Environment Agency, which is responsible for applying the packaging recycling obligation system, was cited as only carrying out 40% of its planned visits to exporters and reprocessors in 2016 to 2017 to confirm the amount of packaging recycled.

The Environment Agency was also reported to have flagged 1,889 companies listed as ‘potential free-riders’, with follow-ups not recorded. Over 300 companies were found to be paying into the recycling system and around 4.5% of companies required to register, did not.

The NAO was reported as saying: “The system appears to have evolved into a comfortable way for government to meet targets without facing up to the underlying recycling issues. The government has no evidence that the system has encouraged companies to minimise packaging or make it easy to recycle.

“It relies on exporting materials to other parts of the world without adequate checks to ensure this material is actually recycled, and without consideration of whether other countries will continue to accept it in the long-term. Our overall sense is that over a long period government has allowed the obligations to keep rolling forward without asking the important questions.”

 

3) Poland illegal waste disposal

In 2018, UK waste disposal companies were found to be caught in an international criminal investigation into the illegal disposal of waste. Polish authorities confirmed that more than 1,000 tonnes of falsely labelled UK plastic waste was seized by government inspectors.

Three companies that sent household recycling to Poland were questioned by the Environment Agency in their involvement.

In April this year, almost 4,000 tonnes of illegally shipped, unsorted, poor quality UK waste was shipped to Poland then returned to the UK to be disposed of responsibly.

 

4) Iceland palm oil rebrand

January 2019 saw UK supermarket chain Iceland rebrand its own-label products containing palm oil. It had made a pledge in April 2018 to remove palm oil by 31 December 2018, but when it realised reformulating some products would be too expensive, it removed its name from the packaging instead.

 

5) Tesco Willow Farm ‘chicken-gate’

In 2017, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain Tesco admitted to describing chicken marketed under its Willow Farm brand as ‘reared exclusively’ for Tesco, after undercover footage revealed poultry returned by supermarket chain Lidl being repackaged as Willow Farm product.

The findings were a part of a Guardian and ITV News investigation into poultry company 2 Sisters Food Group.