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Plastic at Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s has publicly announced that it has so far removed 309 tonnes of plastic – just 0.25% of its 2018 plastic footprint
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Plastic at Sainsbury's_mygreenpod

Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has said ‘We are serious about reducing plastic’, as part of an announcement to make ‘further bold commitments to cut plastic packaging’.

The supermarket has said it will end the use of dark coloured plastics (which are difficult to recycle) across fresh foods by the end of 2019 and entirely by March 2020.

All plastic packaging will also be removed from Christmas crackers this year, and a trial scheme will allow customers to ‘pre-cycle’ unwanted primary and secondary packaging in store and leave it for recycling.

Sainsbury’s has also now removed plastic packaging from sweetheart and savoy cabbages, as part of a drive ‘to significantly reduce plastic packaging’.

How bold is ‘bold’?

In the same announcement, Sainsbury’s reminded us that it removed just 309 tonnes of plastic. Research from Greenpeace reveals that Asda was able to eliminate 6,500 tonnes of plastic over the period 01/01/18 to 27/03/19.

‘We’re surprised Sainsbury’s has publicly announced that they’ve so far removed 309 tonnes of plastic as if that is an achievement – that’s just 0.25% of their 2018 plastic footprint.

‘Greenpeace has been pressuring Sainsbury’s to tackle their plastic problem, and we’re pleased they’ve listened to us and to their own customers by moving away from black plastic and hard-to-recycle plastics, as other supermarkets are doing already.

‘However, inviting customers to remove unwanted plastic packaging as they leave the store shows Sainsbury’s is missing the point. They’re producing too much plastic packaging in the first place, and should be cutting it out rather than focusing on recycling and shifting responsibility for plastic packaging onto their customers.

‘Sainsbury’s must go much further and set yearly reduction targets and pledge to eliminate unnecessary plastic by the end of next year.’

Ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK

Plastics complaints on Twitter

On 29 April, Greenpeace activists visited Sainsbury’s central London HQ to deliver 4,724 Twitter complaints, as well as 2,309 more handwritten messages collected from customers, to urge the supermarket to tackle its plastic problem.

The move came after Greenpeace used a data tool to scrape all tweets in 2018 that mentioned plastics, and one of the top four UK supermarkets: Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.

The analysis showed that Sainsbury’s received more plastics complaints on Twitter than any of the top four supermarkets last year. In total there were more than 12,800 tweets that were complaints about plastic or demands to improve policies on plastic, of which 37% were directed at Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury’s received slightly more plastics complaints tweets than the UK’s biggest supermarket, Tesco, despite having a much smaller market share.

Both Asda and Sainsbury’s, whose merger was last week blocked by the Competition and Markets Authority, have a similar market share of around 15%. But Sainsbury’s received more than four times as many complaints about plastics over the year.

Twitter complaints to supermarkets


Total complaints and feedback on plastics: 4,724
Proportion of complaints: 37%
Average market share over 2018: 15.8


Total complaints and feedback on plastics: 4,716
Proportion of complaints: 37%
Average market share over 2018: 27.6


Total complaints and feedback on plastics: 2,305
Proportion of complaints: 18%
Average market share over 2018: 15.3


Total complaints and feedback on plastics: 1,136
Proportion of complaints: 9%
Average market share over 2018: 10.5

Tweets delivered to Sainsbury’s HQ

Greenpeace activists delivered these Twitter complaints on a USB flash drive, plus thousands more customer messages to the head office of Sainsbury’s. Campaigners took trolleys filled with plastic packaging and handwritten messages which had been collected from Sainsbury’s shoppers from across the UK and delivered them to the central London headquarters.

Audio recordings of the customer messages were broadcast on a tannoy in the Sainsbury’s main reception area, and activists fixed a ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ banner beneath the big Sainsbury’s logo.

Despite plastic production being set to quadruple by 2050, retailers are still focusing more on recycling than reduction. Most major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s have committed to eliminate non-recyclable plastic packaging as part of the UK Plastics Pact, and the voluntary targets do not necessarily entail an overall plastics reduction.

Action on plastics

Every year the top 10 UK supermarkets place over 800,0001 tonnes of single-use plastic packaging on the market, so Greenpeace UK is campaigning for concrete action now.

Greenpeace launched its campaign targeting Sainsbury’s on March 29 after it found that Sainsbury’s was worst in class on plastic reduction, with the supermarket having made the least progress on plastics reduction since January last year.

At the time, Sainsbury’s responded by announcing plans to make reductions to its clothing ranges and by re-announcing some measures it had initially pledged in 2016. Greenpeace did not include clothing in its analysis, as not all supermarkets sell clothes.

Click here to find out why Sainsbury’s was ranked worst for plastics by Greenpeace.

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