Iceland says plastic-free pledge is costing millions

Iceland has admitted that its much-hyped commitment to remove all plastic packaging from its own products by 2023 is proving far from easy.

In an interview with PA, reported by ITV, the retailer’s managing director Richard Walker admitted that eliminating plastic is “damn hard work and it’s costing us a lot of money”. Walker didn’t say how much exactly is being invested, but it was “millions”.

Recent issues include the removal of plastic packaging from its bananas – a trial using a replacement paper band hasn’t worked so the plastic is back.

A plastic-free fresh produce aisle in Liverpool meanwhile has also been scrapped due to a 20% fall in sales, and this despite the loose products being offered at lower prices to “encourage uptake”. Alternative packaging, including plant-based films and compostable nets, were also part of the trial launched back in February.

Other retailers have also been offering plastic-free areas in their fresh produce sections. Some have been caught charging more for the loose fruit and veg.

The trials have been successful for the likes of Morrisons, which in May announced that it was rolling out plastic-free fruit and veg areas in “most of its stores”. Fresh produce sales at its three pilot stores increased by up to 40%, according to The Grocer.

This week, Sainsbury’s launched a trial at its Lincoln and Kidlington superstores which removes plastic produce bags for loose fruit and veg. Customers will have the option of bringing their own containers into store or purchasing a reusable drawstring bag made from 100% recycled materials for 30p.

Speaking at the recent Future of Compostables event, Andrew Thornton, owner of Thornton’s Budgens in London, explained that it’s a process of trial and error to determine what can be depackaged. For example, he switched to paper for wrapping bread and the first batch was too thin so the bread went stale, whilst the second was too thick and so customers couldn’t see the bread.

Currently, there are 28 different parts of his store in Belsize Park that are plastic free. “Our primary aim is to show the supermarkets that this was easy to do,” he said. “We have picked up no increase in food waste; in fact it’s gone down.”

Thornton added: “The more we can get customers to bring their own packaging, the better.”

When Wrap asked 6,214 people, in research just published, what approach they’d favour to help reduce the negative impact of food packaging, only 13% said eliminate as much of it as possible, offer products “loose” and ask people to bring their own containers. This compared to 17% who wanted it all to be biodegradable or compostable and 44% who said make it all recyclable and then actually recycled by the local council.

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