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Have supermarkets just banned single-use plastic?!

Posted by Louise Edge - 30th April 2018

No, afraid not, though you might have thought so from some of the excited media headlines earlier this week! What has been actually been announced is the launch of the UK Plastics Pact – a new initiative led by UK waste group WRAP.

Pact brings together companies, plastic manufacturers, recyclers and local and national government to share their experiences and agree targets for tackling plastic pollution. It already has an impressive list of companies signing up – including some of the biggest UK supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose. What they are pledging to do (by 2025) is:

  • Make 100% of their packaging recyclable, compostable or reusable
  • Ensure 70% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted
  • Take action to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging items through re-design, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery systems
  • Use 30% recycled content across all plastic packaging

What’s Greepeace’s analysis? Greenpeace has welcomed the formation of the PACT and the fact that companies and government are starting to face up to the ocean plastic challenge.

However when you look at the sheer scale of the problem we face – where we’re finding plastic in our water, our seafood, our salt, even in melting Arctic ice – it’s clear that business and government must go further and faster if we are to really tackle ocean plastic pollution.

Improving our recycling is an important part of reducing plastic waste – and action to improve it can and must be taken. The UK Plastics Pact provides a clear roadmap for that and we support their calls for changes in packaging design and improvements to the UK collection and recycling infrastructure. BUT recycling alone cannot fix our ocean plastic problem fast enough.

With a rubbish truck full of plastic currently entering our oceans every minute (and set to rise), plastic packaging use predicted to double by 2020 and quadruple by 2050, while globally, the level of recycling is only around 14% collected (and 5% actually recycled) we clearly need to do more. We urgently need to dramatically REDUCE the amount of plastic packaging we are using.

That’s why Greenpeace are calling on UK supermarkets to embark on a sustained drive to reduce the use of non essential plastic, to develop sustainable alternatives, and to switch to reuse wherever possible. Three key steps we will be asking them to take are to:

  1. Introduce transparency – by publishing a yearly audit of their plastic use
  2. Set targets – for reducing their plastic footprint
  3. Pledge to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and excess packaging by 2019 (clear alternatives exist to non recyclables, so this can happen far sooner than 2025)

Clearly government action to underpin these voluntary commitments is essential (and a blog on this will be coming soon!) But there’s so much that supermarkets can do. Iceland’s landmark announcement that it will eliminate single use plastic packaging from own brand by 2023 has already spurred others to act – and we are starting to see other supermarkets tentatively commit to reduction targets and start to remove things like non recyclable black plastic food trays and to trial plastic free fruit and veg aisles.

How can these reductions be made?

Firstly by cutting waste – getting rid of the #pointlessplastic – things like plastic wrapped coconuts and apples and the unnecessary plastic inside our cereal boxes.

And how about if supermarkets followed Lush’s lead and offered us solid shampoo and shower gel bars that totally eliminate the need for a plastic bottle?

There are other new (and old!) ways of getting products to us without the plastic packaging  that supermarkets should be actively exploring – such as in-store refill stations for reusable packs or Splosh’s cleaning products where you buy a plastic bottle, but when it runs out you get a tablet of concentrate and add water to top it up.

We need to be scaling up and mainstreaming these type of approaches – so we can ensure these predictions of increased single plastic use and increased ocean plastic pollution don’t come to pass.  

Almost half a million of you have called on supermarkets to be leaders and ditch throwaway plastic. They are starting to listen. Sign our petition today to show that we want supermarkets to take quick and ambitious action to reduce their plastic footprint. Let’s make sure that they fully commit to ending ocean plastic pollution!