Supermarket plastic rises above 900,000 tonnes a year, despite plastic reduction pledges

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

Home » ‘Poor plastic progress’

Published: 29 November 2019

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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Supermarket plastic has risen to more than 900,000 tonnes – despite retailers making public commitments to cut down their plastic packaging.

An Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace report, ‘Checking out on plastics II: Breakthroughs and backtracking from supermarkets’, reveals that seven out of the top 10 UK supermarkets had increased their plastic footprint. Only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s had achieved marginal reductions.

Waitrose and Morrisons on top

Waitrose and Morrisons were the best performers, while Asda and Aldi were bottom of the table.

Iceland dropped from the top spot last year to seventh place this year, while Sainsbury’s went from bottom of the 2018 league table to third place this year.

Eight supermarkets pumped out 58.3bn billion pieces of plastic packaging.

Other leading brands failed to respond to the survey for the second year running, including Ocado, Best-One and Booker Group.

‘It’s shocking to see that despite unprecedented awareness of the pollution crisis, the amount of single-use plastic used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets has actually increased in the past year.

‘Our survey shows that grocery retailers need to tighten up targets to drive real reductions in single-use packaging and items. We need to address our throwaway culture at root through systems change, not materials change – substituting one single-use material for another is not the solution.’

JULIET PHILLIPS
EIA Ocean Campaigner

Switch to refills

EIA and Greenpeace are urging supermarkets to work towards eliminating single-use plastic all together, by offering packaging-free products or switching to reusable and refillable packaging. False solutions such as swapping plastic for cardboard, or simply making plastic thinner are unacceptable.

The survey revealed that big brands that supply supermarkets were a driving factor behind the rise in plastic packaging, showing supermarkets had failed to force their suppliers to take action.

Only Tesco had given suppliers an ultimatum to cut excessive plastic or face products being delisted, and campaigners urge others to follow suit.

Another factor in rising plastic was that supermarkets which saw their sales grow last year failed to cut plastic along the way, meaning that when they sold more goods, they sold more plastic too.

2019 supermarket league table

1. Waitrose (Iceland 2018)
2. Morrisons (unchanged)
3. Sainsbury’s (Waitrose 2018)
4. M&S (unchanged)
5. Co-op (Tesco 2018)
6. Tesco (Asda 2018)
7. Iceland (Co-op 2018)
8. Lidl (Aldi 2018)
9. Asda (Lidl 2018)
10. Aldi (Sainsbury’s 2018)

‘Supermarkets are failing on plastics and failing their customers.

‘We hear piecemeal supermarket announcements on plastic every other week, but in reality they are putting more plastic on the shelves than ever.

‘Supermarkets need to buck up and think bigger. They must change their stores to offer loose food dispensers, reusable packaging, and move away from throwaway packaging altogether.’

FIONA NICHOLLS
Ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK

Waitrose scored highly because it had reduced the amount of plastic packaging used, and is looking to scale up innovative trials to offer refill stations in store for products like coffee, rice and pasta, as well as wine and detergent.

Morrisons became the first retailer to set a quantified target to increase reusable and refillable packaging. It also started its own refill trials, and made loose and refillable ranges 10% cheaper than packaged counterparts.

After Greenpeace targeted Sainsbury’s for its poor track record on plastics, it announced plans to reduce plastic by 50% and introduced reusable produce bags for loose fruit and vegetables.

Companies at the bottom of the league table had increased their overall plastic footprint since last year and had generally made the least progress to date on trialling and expanding packaging-free and reusable solutions.

Click here to read our article about how supermarkets ranked for plastic in 2018.

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