The voluntary programme Repak is designed to fulfil the Irish industry's obligations under the EU 1992 directive on packaging and packaging waste and the later Waste Management (Packaging) Regulations of 1997. Cutting packaging by 1 per cent would achieve a total packaging waste reduction of about 100,000 tonnes, according to Repak. Reducing the volume of packaging is thus an important aim of manufacturers to meet ethical requirements and environmental regulations, mirrored by increasing consumer awareness on the effects their lifestyles have on the environment. The scheme's course, which was inaugurated this week, aims to help the industry 'design out' over-packaging. "While recycling rates are on target at 60 per cent, emphasis must now go on prevention and minimisation of packaging," said Andrew Hetherington, CEO for Repak. "There is no easy solution to this growing issue as packaging design is a major consideration and we are helping to equip Irish industry with the tools to proactively manage this challenge. This is one initiative within our Repak packaging prevention programme." Package reduction course Repak's initiatives to reduce the impact of food packaging on the environment include the light-weighting of materials to reduce the amount of resources and energy used, thereby reducing the environmental impact. Such a method has been adopted by Batchelors for its food cans, which has resulted in a reduction of steel, tin and energy while also being recyclable. Additionally, the training looks at developing alternative packaging solutions and the use of replacement materials. Repak provides examples of such efforts. For instance, Bulmers Ireland moved from using a PVC sleeve on its bottles to using a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) one. PET is more recyclable, has less harmful dioxins and its production process has less of an effect on the environment. And Baileys Irish Cream minimised its primary packaging, by changing the bottle shape and quantity, and removed the need for secondary packaging. It said this achieves a saving of 52.9 tonnes of cardboard packaging per year, and 377.8 tonnes of glass packaging per year. Hetherington added: "As waste growth and packaging recycling rates continue to grow the time is ripe for us to focus on prevention/optimisation." Repak developed the course in conjunction with the Irish National Training and Employment Authority (FAS) and the consultancy group RPS. It follows a series of earlier initiatives, such as seminars and technical help to companies, designed to reduce the amount of packaging generated, which included future plans to develop a voluntary packaging agreement for the Irish retail sector to commit to limited levels. Cutting packaging in EuropeRepak has invested €140m in supporting packaging recycling in Ireland since 1997, and claims to have helped increase recycling from under 15 per cent in 1998 to nearly 60 per cent The programme echoes many European initiatives aimed at reducing packaging to help the environment, such as the UK WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), which seeks to help individuals, businesses and local authorities reduce waste and recycle more. However, a Local Government Association (LGA) report out today showed that progress in the UK is slow. It said up to 38 per cent of a regular household shopping basket cannot be recycled - down only 2 per cent from October 2007. Meanwhile, recycling rates have increased to 33 per cent in England, showing increasing commitment by consumers.