Ex-Asda boss declares war on plastic packaging

16 October 2017

The former CEO of Asda has urged UK supermarkets to stop using plastic packaging, saying costly recycling initiatives had failed to halt the world’s plastic pollution “crisis”.

Andy Clarke, who spend six years leading one of the UK’s largest supermarkets, said after seeing a “never-ending stream of initiatives” to curb plastic waste, the only solution left was for retailers to reject plastic entirely in favour of more sustainable alternative like paper, steel, glass and aluminium.

“Go into any supermarket in the country and you will be met by a wall of technicolour plastic, be it fruit and veg or meat and dairy, plastic encases virtually everything we buy,” he said. 

“Unlike material like aluminium and glass, plastic packaging cannot be recycled ad infinitum.

“Most items of plastic packaging can only be recycled twice before they become unusable. Recycling will never offer a durable solution to the plastic crisis—we simply have to use less plastic in the first place.”

Around 1m plastic bottles are bought a minute, with production predicted to double within the next two decades and quadruple by 2050, according to the Guardian

Only 29% of plastic in the UK is reportedly recycled each year, accounting for just 5m tonnes and between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic finds its way into the world’s oceans to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year.

Last August, the results of a Plymouth University study reported that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish.

Clarke, who stood down last year, said while CEO at Asda he had witnessed how much supermarkets had done to try and promote recycling, investing billions to increase the amount of recycled plastic they use, but the measures had failed to reduce the scale of plastic pollution.

He pointed to attempts to use thinner plastic milk bottles containing more recycled material at Asda, which led to bottles bursting and creating more food waste. In the end the supermarket went back to the original bottles.

“Regardless of how much is invested in Britain’s recycling infrastructure, virtually all plastic packaging will reach landfill or the bottom of the ocean sooner or later,” he said.

“It is vital that the UK packaging industry and supermarkets work together to turn off the tap.” 

He suggested that supermarkets create plastic-free aisles to showcase the wealth of alternatives to plastic including innovations like grass paper.

He added that a Populus poll earlier this year showed 91% of shoppers support the introduction of plastic-free aisles. 

“The great thing about a plastic-free aisle is that it could encourage innovation in packaging many different products and save environmentally-minded consumers the hassle of hunting for environmentally-friendly choices across the store,” he said.

Clarke supports the campaign, A Plastic Planet, to illustrate the alternatives in packaging.

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