Plastic footprint grows at seven out of 10 UK supermarkets

Seven out of the UK’s 10 largest supermarkets have seen their plastic use grow since last year, despite making public commitments to cut down.


That is according to a new report from Greenpeace, which reveals that only Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s achieved marginal plastic reductions over the last year.

This comes amid a surge in sales of ‘bags for life’, which have increased by 25% since 2018 to approximately 1.5 billion, or 54 per household, despite containing far more plastic than traditional single-use bags.

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

Juliet Phillips, ocean campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which co-produced the report, said the findings were “shocking” considering public awareness around plastic pollution.

“Grocery retailers need to tighten up targets to drive real reductions in single-use packaging and items," she continued.

"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.”

The report reveals that suppliers were also a driving factor behind the rise in plastic packaging, showing that supermarkets had failed to force change in their supply chains.

Only Tesco had given suppliers an ultimatum to cut excessive plastic or face products being delisted, although Waitrose, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s scored highest for their action on plastic over the last year.

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Waitrose scored highly because it 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.

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.

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

“We hear piecemeal supermarket announcements on plastic every other week, but in reality they are putting more plastic on the shelves than ever,” said Greenpeace UK ocean plastics campaigner, Fiona Nicholls.

“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.”


Image credit: ©iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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