Iceland demands greater plastic transparency

Iceland has revealed it used over 32,000 tonnes of plastic across its UK and international operations in 2019 as the retailer called on the government to make reporting of plastic packaging mandatory for businesses.

Iceland managing director Richard Walker described the results as “simply terrifying” in a blog post in which he noted that Iceland generated more than 1.8 billion items using primary plastic and over 100 million items of secondary and tertiary plastic.

“Our message is clear,” said Walker. “Without transparency, and government enforced reduction targets, we will not be able to judge whether business actions are delivering real progress. That is why today Iceland is calling on retailers and other businesses to step up and commit to publishing their total plastic packaging transparently, including both own label and branded products.”

In January 2018, Iceland committed to eliminate plastic packaging from its own label products by the end of 2023. Since then, it said it had reduced plastic packaging usage by 29%, albeit its own data shows that two thirds of the packaging it sells relates to branded rather than own label products.

In its UK stores and depots in the calendar year 2019, Iceland used 29,139 tonnes of primary plastic including food and non-food packaging; 1,802 tonnes of secondary plastic including shrink wrap and shelf-ready packaging; and 473 tonnes of tertiary plastic including pallet wrap. The figures included over 91 million bottles and almost 4 million sachets.

Campaigners praised the retailer’s transparency. “Iceland has made a bold and brave move by publishing their plastic data, and we urge other retailers to follow suit,” said Greenpeace UK plastic campaigner Nina Schrank.

Iceland’s packaging footprint report, however, makes no mention of what proportion of plastic is recyclable nor of its footprint for other single-use sources of packaging.

Iceland has eschewed membership of industry initiatives such as the Plastics Pact in favour of a more individual approach. In some areas, such as in phasing out the use of polystyrene packaging, Iceland is behind the industry curve having committed to a 2021 phase out as opposed to the 2020 target for pact members.

It is also not the first food business to publish plastic data. Last year, some major food and supermarket brands published figures showing the tonnage of plastic packaging they use as part of the new plastics economy global commitment. Carrefour for example uses 57,000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, foodservice operators McDonald’s and Starbucks have gone one step further: both recently revealed details of their packaging (rather than just plastic) footprints.

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