Retailers have been accused of taking a “pick-and-mix” approach to reducing plastic and lacking a “coherent vision” for tackling pollution.
A new analysis has found that ten of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains are putting over 800,000 tonnes of single-use plastic on the market every year.
Greenpeace UK and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) asked 18 UK grocery retailers to share the actions they are taking to tackle plastic pollution in what they claim is the most comprehensive survey to date on the issue.
Their investigation found that the seven supermarkets who provided unit data for their total plastic packaging footprint across branded and own-brand products are putting into circulation the equivalent of 59 billion pieces of plastic packaging each year, equivalent to over 2,000 items for every household in the country.
Drink products represent the largest tonnage of plastic packaging in the grocery sector at 256,000 tonnes, followed by fruit and vegetables (38,000 tonnes), cleaning and washing products (52,000 tonnes) and toiletries (32,000 tonnes).
Retailers were asked a series of questions relating to their use, management, targets and reduction plans for single-use plastic.
Iceland came out top of the league table, scoring highly for its commitment to eliminate own brand single-use plastic packaging; however it was the worst performer for eliminating non-recyclable plastic. Sainsbury’s ranked lowest of the retailers that responded to the survey.
The survey also uncovered a large data gap on the plastic habits of some of the UK’s largest convenience chains, including those owned by Booker Group (such as Premier, Londis and Budgens), Spar UK and Best-One, who failed to respond to requests for data. Ocado was the only major grocery retailer who refused to participate in the survey.
The analysis found that many supermarkets have not yet adopted plastic-specific reduction targets, including Aldi, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose; while only four chains offer customers options to use refillable containers.
In general, retailers are focusing more on recycling than reduction, while few were able to provide evidence that they’re using their buying power to push big consumer brands to reduce their plastic footprint.
“So far most retail bosses have responded to growing concern from customers with a pick-and-mix of different plastic announcements, but have failed to come up with the coherent plastic reduction plans required to solve this problem,” said Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner Elena Polisano. “The success of the plastic bag charge shows big retailers can crack down on plastic waste if they really mean to.”
Populus polling from June showed that nine out of 10 people (89%) are concerned about ocean plastic pollution, and 72% feel supermarkets are not doing enough about plastic packaging to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. 91% believe supermarkets should be working to reduce the amount of overall packaging they use and 86% support the idea of supermarkets moving towards using more refillable and reusable packaging instead of using single-use packaging.
Greenpeace said there would be competitive advantages for retailers who are able to respond to consumers’ concerns and a potential loss of custom for those that don’t act.