Food and Plastic News 

We give an update on what companies are doing to get rid of single use and non-recyclable plastic, and list campaigns that encourage them to do so.

Greenpeace ranking infographic

Supermarket news: checking out on plastics

Supermarkets and their plastic footprint

A new report ‘Checking Out on Plastics II: Breakthroughs and backtracking from supermarkets’, has revealed that seven of the top 10 supermarkets have increased the plastic packaging they use, also known as their ‘plastic footprint’ – despite public commitments to cut down.

Companies at the top of the 2019 league table were Waitrose and Morrisons, who performed best in making enthusiastic commitments to scale-up packaging-free and reuse solutions.

Waitrose also achieved an actual decrease in their plastic footprint this year, along with Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury’s were one of the big climbers this year. Having come bottom of the league last year, they now sit in third place. Sainsbury’s announced plans to reduce plastic by 50%, and introduced reusable produce bags for loose fruit and vegetables. This came as tens of thousands of customers took action against them for their plastic apathy.

Bags for life

A big area for improvement is plastic bags. While the 5p charge may have driven down demand for carrier bags, it’s just shifted the problem. Supermarkets sold 1.5 billion ‘bags for life’ last year – roughly 54 per UK household.

Campaigners say that by charging more for bags for life, giving discounts to those who reuse them or bring in their own reusable bags, supermarkets could reduce demand.

Sign Greenpeace's petition telling supermarkets to ditch plastic packaging.

Read the full report on the Environmental Investigation Agency's website.

How are supermarkets addressing plastic pollution?

Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency have released a major new league table ranking of how supermarkets are addressing plastic pollution. 

They surveyed the top UK supermarkets and grocery convenience store chains and found that just 10 supermarkets collectively put more than 810,000 tonnes of plastic on the market each year. This is in addition to more than 1.1 billion single-use plastic bags, 958 million bags for life and 1.2 billion plastic produce bags for fruit and veg.

There is also a shortage of plans in place to stem the flood. Most commitments made by supermarkets are weak, with room for improvement even among survey leaders – Iceland and Morrisons.

Last year the league table found that:

  • Five supermarkets have no specific targets to reduce plastic packaging – Aldi, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. And of the supermarkets that do have targets, most are moving at such a slow pace that it would take them 20 years to completely rid their shelves of throwaway plastic.  
  • Iceland has the most ambitious reduction targets aiming to get rid of all plastic packaging of its own brands by 2023.
  • Only four supermarkets offer customers some options to use refillable containers. 86% shoppers support the idea of supermarkets moving towards using more refillable and reusable packaging but only Morrisons is showing much promise on it so far. 
  • Greenpeace wants supermarkets to eliminate non-recyclable plastic, like black plastic, by 2019. Most have agreed to do so by 2025. Only four have adopted earlier time frames – M&S and Aldi by 2022; Waitrose and Co-op by 2023. The Co-op currently has the highest proportion of recyclable plastic packaging, at 79%.

Read the full report Checking out on Plastics and sign the petition to tell supermarkets to follow Iceland’s lead and ditch throwaway plastic packaging.

We must do more than remove plastic bags from our stores

Whilst all the supermarkets have phased out 5p carrier bags and now just sell 10p plastic ‘bags for life’, Dr Sue Kinsey, senior pollution officer with the Marine Conservation Society, said:

“We are concerned that the difference between a five and a 10 pence charge may not be sufficient to change buyer behaviour further, given the volume and longevity of the material used in a plastic’ bag for life’. We keenly await the results of the change across the business to see if customers will be using their bags again and again.”

The Co-op’s pledge on plastic will see all its own-brand packaging become easy to recycle by 2023. But that’s not a ban on single use packaging just a ban on non-recyclable packaging. 
It has also promised to use a minimum of 50% recycled plastic in bottles, pots, trays and punnets by 2021. All own-brand black and dark plastic packaging, including black ready meal trays, will be eliminated by 2020. It will also roll out lightweight compostable carrier bags.

Lidl removed black plastic from fruit and veg range in September but that still leaves loads of other products like ready meals in black plastic.

M&S trials plastic-free fruit and veg

Marks and Spencer is launching a trial of 90 lines of plastic-free loose fruit and vegetables.

“M&S were ranked fourth out of the ten biggest supermarkets when Greenpeace assessed their plans to tackle plastic waste, so it’s encouraging that M&S is now being more ambitious when it comes to reducing its plastic footprint. 

“M&S must now go further and introduce plastic-free fruit and vegetable lines in all stores nationwide, and we urge other supermarkets to follow suit.” Elena Polisano, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

Sainsbury’s agrees to cut plastic pollution 

Image: sainsburys couldnt care less campaign by greenpeace
Greenpeace activists place a sign reading “Couldn’t care less” under Sainsbury’s logo during an action at the supermarket’s London HQ to deliver 4,724 Twitter complaints.

In April 2019, Sainsbury’s announced steps to cut plastic packaging, to bring it closer in line with the other supermarkets.

A Greenpeace survey of supermarket plastic policies last year placed Sainsbury’s in last position and the group called on Sainsbury’s to set yearly plastic reduction targets, and start by eliminating unnecessary and unrecyclable plastic by 2020.

Following the report, Greenpeace launched a campaign targeting Sainsbury’s.

Most major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s have now committed to eliminating non-recyclable plastic packaging by as late as 2025 as part of the UK Plastics Pact. Many retailers have additional targets to eliminate problematic plastics such as PVC, expanded polystyrene and black plastic within the next two years.

Elena Polisano, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, responded to Sainsbury’s announcement: “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.”

Meanwhile, Waitrose is surging ahead of the rest with plans to trial refillable options in-store.

Anti-plastic campaigns

Throwaway cup levy

The government introduced a 25p cup charge in Parliament and it’s seen a huge 74% decrease in cup usage. Urge the government to introduce a charge for the whole of the UK.

Ban single-use plastic cups in football stadiums

Give plastic the red card by signing the Friends of the Earth petition to make football stadiums plastic-free by getting them to ditch single-use plastic pint cups, bottles, coffee cups and stirrers.

Plastic can rings

Now that Walkers has succumbed to pressure from the public and announced the world’s first national recycling scheme for plastic crisp packaging, we know that we have a chance to improve packaging matters in other industries. Email Carling, Tennent’s and Strongbow asking them to get rid of plastic can rings like Corona, Guinness and Carlsberg.

Supermarket packaging

In September, Greenpeace volunteers and shoppers have been handing items of single-use plastic packaging back at tills in over 60 supermarkets across the UK, with notes to store managers calling for action to reduce excessive throwaway packaging.

UK supermarkets generate more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year. Shoppers were encouraged to remove unnecessary plastic packaging from items they had purchased and leave it at the checkout, handing responsibility for its disposal back to the company selling it.

Greenpeace UK’s most successful environmental petition is asking supermarkets to reduce the volume of throwaway plastic packaging they produce. It has been signed by over 700,000 people across the UK.

Image: Walkers Crisps

Bread bag recycling scheme launched across the UK

A new initiative has been launched by Hovis and TerraCycle to encourage people to recycle the plastic bags that bread is sold in.

The Bread Bag Recycling Programme will create a network of bread bag recycling points with schools, charities and community groups. The plastic bread bags will then be turned into public benches and outdoor furniture. See the dog food guide for more on TerraCycle’s involvement in recycling pet food sachets.

Consumers can either register as a private collector and post collected bread bags to TerraCycle or locate a community collection point using a map on the TerraCycle website.

Only one in ten local authorities currently recycle bread plastic bags, according to Recoup. Most bread bags can also be recycled through the plastic bag collection points at larger supermarkets, but these are not being used to their full potential, maybe because consumers don’t realise they can recycle there.

Laure Cucuron, general manager for TerraCycle Europe, said:

 “Bread is a product that is consumed by many families on a daily basis so there is significant scope to alter consumer behaviour and to encourage people to recycle used bread bags.”

“Hovis is helping to lead the agenda for the bread industry and we hope to see more brands and industries making moves in the same direction.”

A better solution could be that manufacturers alter their behaviour and don’t sell bread in plastic bags, or there is some sort of refill scheme. A more sustainable option available now is to buy your bread unpackaged from your local baker.

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