Retailers must embrace reuse models to slash plastic

Supermarkets could cut plastic waste in half by 2025 by reducing unnecessary packaging and switching to reuse models.

A new report by Greenpeace found that by focusing their attention on the packaging for 54 grocery categories supermarkets could cut throwaway plastic by 50% by 2025. And by zeroing in on the 13 categories with the highest potential for reduction, including bottled water, carbonated drinks, and fruit and vegetables, it found that businesses could reduce plastic by 35%, the equivalent of 300,000 tonnes.

Greenpeace said the research, carried out by consultancy 3Keel, presented the first UK-wide view of volumes of single-use plastic packaging placed on the market. It analysed 54 different retail product categories for amounts of single-use plastic packaging used through the three most relevant lenses: weight, sales units and number of plastic components. It then cross-referenced each product category against a list of proven reuse-based systems and packaging reduction techniques, to assess how much single-use plastic packaging could be cut from each category.

Greenpeace proposed that retailers prioritise the 13 categories with the highest potential for plastic reduction in order to make far-reaching reductions in single use plastic as quickly as possible. The 13 categories are bottled water, fizzy drinks, milk, still drinks and fruit juices, household cleaning products, detergents and softeners, sports and energy drinks, rice, vegetables and salads, fruit, fruit juice, dilutables (cordials and squash drinks), and bath and shower products.

As an example, it said that to deal with on-the-go needs for water, supermarkets could join coffee chains, restaurants, airports and independent shops in offering free water refill stations in-store, where customers can top up their reusable water bottles.

The report also drew attention to the fact that just five product categories within the set of 13 are estimated to contribute 247,000 tonnes of plastic packaging every year. Bottled water, fizzy drinks, milk, vegetables and salads and wrapped fruit are collectively packaged in around 46 billion pieces of plastic. If supermarkets follow the recommendations in the report for reducing the plastic on these five product categories alone, Greenpeace claimed they could reduce their plastic footprints by 35% by 2025, 70% of the way to the 50% reduction target.

Greenpeace called on retailers and brands to set ambitious targets to at least halve single-use plastic by 2025 and to ensure at least 25% of this is met by systems of reusable packaging.

It added that the government should set legally binding targets in the Environment Bill to reduce single-use plastics by 50% by 2025; provide tax discounts for reusable packaging and financial incentives to help the sector shift over to reuse; and ensure that reform of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation incentivises reuse and reduction of single-use packaging.

“For the first time, data specialists have mapped out where the greatest potential lies for drastically reducing the volume of plastic packaging going through our supermarket tills,” said Nina Schrank, plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK. “It kick-starts one of the most important environmental questions of our time: How and where can we reduce throwaway plastic packaging? And fast. The challenge to change our plastic habits, move to widespread reuse and refill systems, and turn the tide on plastic pollution, is vast. It will not be easy but it will be possible, and we think UK supermarkets can do it.”

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