UK food and drink packaging to have ‘eco-scores’ traffic light system

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A traffic light system to determine ‘eco-scores’ of some food and drink products will be piloted in the UK in September.

A traffic light system for environmental impact scores on some food and drink products will be introduced in the UK in September to help consumers make more sustainable choices.

The pilot scheme is being launched by Foundation Earth, a new non-profit organisation comprising global food giants like Nestlé as well as British retailers like Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Costa Coffee and the Co-op.

The traffic light grading system will see some food and drink products carrying front-of-pack eco-scores. This will include colour-coded eco-impact tiers ranging from A to G, with the green A+ being the highest and red G the lowest. The system was developed by the environmental consultancy and advisory company Mondra.

The eco-scores consider multiple aspects in calculating a food item’s impact on the environment. These include carbon emissions, water usage and pollution, impact on biodiversity loss, as well as the environmental impact from farming, processing, packaging and transport. Foundation Earth hopes to provide information that can help consumers ascertain whether they are buying from a sustainable business with a low carbon footprint, adding that businesses in turn will be incentivised to secure a better eco-score.

Read our story about My Emissions, a programme labelling carbon footprints for food on recipe blogs.

The foundation, which was the brainchild of late food entrepreneur Denis Lynn, is being partly funded by the European Commission’s food innovation initiative EIT Food. The eco-labelling scheme also has the support of both the governing Conservative party and opposition Labour party and is expected to run until early 2022. Environment secretary George Eustice said: “Foundation Earth’s ambitions to develop eco-labelling on food has the potential to help address the urgent challenges of sustainability and climate change.”

Labour’s shadow environment minister Luke Pollard added: “People want to do what they can to tackle the climate crisis and help the environment. But at the moment they don’t have the information they need to make more sustainable buying choices. I want to see clearer labelling on carbon and environmental credentials so people can back the brands and products doing the right thing by our planet.”

Foundation Earth is aiming for a Europe-wide rollout next year. It will run in parallel with a nine-month research and development project combining the Mondra method with a programme devised by Belgium’s KU Leuven university and Spanish research agency AZTI to devise an eco-score system fit for use across Europe.

Andy Zynga, chief executive of EIT, called the launch “a very significant moment for the European food industry”. “It will bring about a credible and clear front-of-pack environmental labelling system on food products right across the continent,” he said. “In supermarkets throughout the European Union, consumers are trying to make more environmentally-friendly choices — and food is at the heart of this.”

This article was amended to report a retraction by Foundation Earth, which said it falsely claimed Oxford University and World Wide Fund for Nature were involved in developing the scheme.

Anay Mridul
Anay Mridul
Anay is journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.