The chief executives of Asda, Greggs and J Sainsbury will hold talks with Michael Gove this week amid growing concern that a series of recycling initiatives will impose unsustainable costs on an already-embattled sector.
Sky News understands that bosses from half a dozen of the UK’s biggest food retailers will meet the environment secretary tomorrow to discuss his proposals for a wide-ranging deposit return scheme.
In a speech at Kew Gardens earlier this week, Mr Gove said he favoured an “all-in model” that would include glass bottles to “give consumers the greatest possible incentive to recycle”.
Thursday’s meeting, which will be attended by several executives from the British Retail Consortium, is expected to see industry players offering support for more comprehensive plans to protect the environment.
However, one of the people due to attend said that some industry figures would argue that retailers could not bear the financial burden that would result from Mr Gove’s proposed model.
The Times reported on Wednesday that retailers feared the deposit return scheme – under which a consumer would pay up to 20p that would be refunded when empty containers are placed in special machines – would cost £1.6bn to run each year.
Those scheduled to attend from industry include Mike Coupe, Sainsbury’s CEO; his Greggs counterpart, Roger Whiteside; Tim Doubleday, chief financial officer at Burger King UK; Asda chief executive Roger Burnley; Lawrence Hene, Ocado’s managing director; and Martin Brok, president of Starbucks.
The scheme is aimed at cutting the 3bn plastic drinks bottles incinerated, sent to landfill or left to litter Britain’s streets, countryside and marine environment annually.
Retailers have pleaded with the government to act urgently to reduce costs through reforming business rates, amid a growing crisis on high streets across the country.
Numerous retailers, including Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group and Debenhams, have been forced to resort to insolvency proceedings in desperate bids to survive, while a string of casual dining chains such as Carluccio’s and Prezzo have also implemented swingeing store closure programmes.
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One source said that Thursday’s meeting between Mr Gove and the executives would also cover other areas of the government’s waste and resources strategy.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed that the summit would take place.