The UK’s largest grocer has told suppliers that it doesn’t want compostable packaging being used, including polylactic acid (PLA).
Tesco uses a simple traffic light system to inform suppliers about the packaging materials and formats it wants and doesn’t want.
Those on the red list are “not to be used as customers cannot easily recycle [them]”. This includes eight materials including oxodegradables, polystyrene and PVC. The five formats the supermarket doesn’t want include black plastic trays and paper or board that is coated or laminated on both sides.
Packaging that could be composted in industrial units was on the red list when the guidelines were first produced in 2018. However home compostable packaging was rated “amber” – materials that can be used when “green” ones are not an option. All compostable and biodegradable packaging is now on the red list.
This has angered producers of compostable packaging. In a blog for Packaging News last year Tipa co-founder Daphna Nissenbaum said: “While I applaud efforts to better inform the public on this crucial issue, underlying this progressive step is a worrying realisation about the misinformation concerning compostable packaging.”
The Bio-based and Biodegradable Industry Association said Tesco is “setting against a tide which will only become more powerful as consumers understand that they cannot recycle many of the plastics Tesco is compelling suppliers to use”.
Many surveys show that consumers support compostable packaging, whilst Footprint research last year found that some caterers were being contractually obliged to use such materials.
Tesco’s argument is that there is very limited collection in the UK for compostable packaging and so customers would either contaminate their recycling stream or have to dispose of it in their general waste.
In a statement the BBIA questioned whether Tesco’s strategy ran contrary to the UK Plastics Pact. “As the Plastic Pact (to which Tesco are signatories) made clear in guidelines for the use of compostable materials, published on February 6th 2020, there are certain uses for which plastics are simply not suitable. These currently include teabags, coffee pods, sticky labels on fruit and vegetables, ready meal trays and food caddy liners and that list continues to grow as collections and market uptake develop.”
WRAP’s new guidance includes six key applications for compostable plastic packaging: Food caddy liners; fruit and veg stickers; tea bags; coffee pods; ready meal trays; and “closed loop situations” like at festivals or within buildings like coffee shops.
Tesco confirmed that items such as tea bags, caddy liners and coffee pods are all products rather than packaging and the supermarket remains supportive of these being compostable.