Greenpeace has urged supermarkets to eliminate non-recyclable packaging such as films © AFP/Getty Images
Greenpeace has urged supermarkets to eliminate non-recyclable packaging such as films © AFP/Getty Images

Why a dozen categories are key to cutting 35% of all plastic waste

1 September 2020

UK supermarkets could halve their use of plastic by 2025 by zeroing in on “problem products”, according to a report. 

The report, by Greenpeace, found supermarkets could make significant reductions in the amount of plastic they produce by focusing attention on the packaging for 54 grocery categories.

Changing packaging for just 13 of these categories – including fizzy drinks, fruit, vegetables, and household detergents – could reduce plastic by 35%, said the report.

Five of these product categories – bottled water, fizzy drinks, milk, vegetables and salads, and wrapped fruit – are estimated to contribute 247,000 tonnes of plastic packaging every year, around 46bn pieces of plastic.

Concerted action is required by both retailers and the government to limit the impact of plastic pollution, the report said. 

Greenpeace is calling on retailers to commit to at least halve single-use plastics by 2025, and to set targets to ensure at least 25% of this is met by systems of reusable packaging. 

“All non-recyclable packaging, like laminates and films, should be urgently eliminated,” it said.

Meanwhile, the UK government should set legally-binding targets to reduce single-use plastics by 50% by 2025, and introduce mandatory corporate reporting on plastic reduction, in order to “create a level playing field for all sections of the grocery industry”, the report said. 

Stuart Lendrum, head of packaging, quality and food safety at Iceland, who backed the report, said: “The retail and packaging sectors continually demonstrate the ability to innovate and change. Supply chains are often shared – we all need to do better on cutting plastic packaging and that starts with accepting and acknowledging the scale of the challenge. 

“We at Iceland are doing our very best to be clear, creative and collaborative. Despite Covid-19 we're maintaining our commitment to eliminate our own label plastic packaging by the end of 2023. We've already reduced our own label plastic packaging by 29% and we're committed to doing our bit to help create a stronger, more resilient, greener and healthier economy."

Claire Hughes, head of quality and innovation at Sainsbury’s, said: “In order to reach this ambitious target, we need transformational thinking and collaboration across the industry. We will work alongside our suppliers, manufacturers, customers and other retailers to reduce the amount of plastic across the supply chain, whilst also investing in research and development.”

The report comes as the UK government announced it would be increasing the charge for plastic carriers bags in England from 5p to 10p by April 2021.

The charge, which was initially rolled out in 2015, will be extended to cover all retailers in England. Previously the plastic bag charge only applied to retailers that employed 250 people or more.

Environment secretary George Eustice described the UK as a “world-leader in this global effort”, adding the extension would “continue to cut unnecessary waste”.

The government said the average person in England buys just four bags a year from the main supermarkets, compared with the 140 they took home in 2014.

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