Supermarket plastic rises above 900,000 tons per year, despite plastic-reduction pledges

Supermarket plastic rises above 900,000 tons per year, despite plastic-reduction pledges

December 3, 2019
Press Release: Greenpeace UK

Supermarkets have been accused of putting profits before the environment after a new report showed plastic has risen by more than 900,000 tonnes in the past year

Supermarket plastic has risen to more than 900,000 tons – 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.

EIA and Greenpeace are urging supermarkets to work toward eliminating single-use plastic altogether, 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 report suggests.

“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,” said EIA Ocean Campaigner Juliet Phillips. “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.”

“Supermarkets are failing on plastics and failing their customers,” added Fiona Nicholls, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK. “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.”

The survey revealed that big brands that supply supermarkets were a driving factor behind the rise in plastic packaging, showing they the latter 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.

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 such as 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.

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