UK supermarkets put at least 59 billion items of single use plastic packaging on the market a year. © AFP/Getty Images
UK supermarkets put at least 59 billion items of single use plastic packaging on the market a year. © AFP/Getty Images

Right solution to plastic packaging needed, say supermarkets

9 January 2020

Supermarkets are concerned over “kneejerk reactions” to plastic packaging that result in the use of other harmful materials, according to a report.

In a report by the charity Green Alliance on supermarkets and packaging, retailers said the impacts of different materials had to be considered to find “the right solution”.

For example, switching from plastic bottles to glass, aluminium, or paper carton materials also has harmful implications for the environment, including toxic waste, non-recyclable packaging and carbon emissions, according to the charity. 

Five of the UK’s major supermarkets as well major consumer goods and beverage companies contributed to the report. 

One supermarket said: “There are people who would like us to take plastic out of the soft drinks section and replace it with something else like glass and Tetra Paks, which aren’t recycled [in the area].”

Another supermarket representative said: “I think there’s a lot of pressure to move to alternatives, which aren’t necessarily better from an environmental and climate impact point of view.”

Green Alliance said it was useful when supermarkets set out plastic packaging standards that suppliers were required to meet.

Businesses believed that setting clear restrictions on what materials are acceptable “sends a much broader signal through the value chain which impacts everyone”.

Businesses agreed the government needed to take more action and supermarkets wanted to see “more joined up, top-down government intervention” and “strategic direction”, said the report. 

Green Alliance said businesses and the public believe all environmental impacts, including water scarcity and carbon emissions, need to be addressed, not only plastic pollution.

“The whole agenda needs to be more aligned and more encompassing with carbon. We’re so focused on the plastics that we seem to have lost sight of the impacts around climate,” said one supermarket representative. 

Supermarkets were concerned time spent responding to pressure from the media and public on single-use plastics would detract from work to “develop longer term, systematic, sustainable solutions that have the potential to positively transform consumption patterns”.

The report was part of a work programme for the Circular Economy Task Force, a business group convened by Green Alliance, and chair Colin Church said: “Plastic pollution is a real environmental problem, but simply moving on to making single-use items out of other materials isn’t always the right solution because they too will have drawbacks.”

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