The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has spotlighted the role that supermarkets have to play in helping consumers reduce the environmental impact of their grocery shopping with a meeting of the UK’s 13 top food retailers, Ben Bradshaw, Minister for Local Environment, and Jennie Price, chief executive of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Reporting on progress against WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment, which aims to cut packaging and food waste, the retailers outlined what they have done over the past year, including minimising packaging on shelf, innovations that keep food fresher for longer and long-term objectives that place reducing waste firmly in the retailers’ corporate strategies.

Commenting on the update, Bradshaw said: “Unnecessary and excessive packaging and waste contributes to dangerous climate change. It also adds to the cost to local authorities and the public of managing waste. I am impressed by the commitment that has been shown over the past year by retailers, but the action has to go further and has to be more visible to consumers. Until the supermarkets demonstrate clearly that they are willing to lead by example we cannot expect consumers to get fully engaged with reducing their own waste.”

At the meeting, WRAP’s Price announced that three major brands – Heinz, Northern Foods and Unilever – have now signed up to the Courtauld Commitment.

“Consumers are making a significant contribution to tackling the nation’s waste by embracing recycling and we are now looking to the retailers to step up and play their part by helping to design out waste before it happens,” Price said.

“We need to reverse the trends that have led to our ‘throw away’ habits. The retail sector has an enormous capacity to influence and innovate in this area, and the real impact will come when the commitment to reducing packaging and food waste becomes ‘business as usual’. This is what we expect to see moving forward and the willingness of leading brands to come on board is extremely welcome as it increases the momentum and draws in the wider supply chain.”

Coming out of the meeting, the representatives of the food retail industry suggested follow-up action food waste, biopolymers and compostable packaging, and consistent on-pack recycling information for consumers. Bradshaw and Price agreed to take these issues forward in a series of round table discussions with retailers and other relevant stakeholders.