Summary

Plastic from supermarket shelves represents a large portion of the total amount flooding onto the UK market each year. Located at the interface between consumers and suppliers, supermarkets occupy an almost unique position to lead the transition away from a single-use society, by substantially reducing their plastic footprint and supporting brands and customers to do the same.

In the first survey of its kind, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace UK surveyed and ranked the plastic habits of the country’s biggest grocery retailers.

We uncovered shocking statistics about the amount of plastics used each year, and an even more worrying shortage of plans in place to substantially reduce this volume. Currently, most commitments fall far short of the ambition required to reduce dependency on single-use plastics, with room for improvement even among survey leaders.

810000

10 supermarkets are placing over 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic on the market every year.

No targets5 / 10

5 of the 10 supermarket respondents have no plastic-specific reduction targets in place.

diver

Only four companies currently publish their annual plastic footprint, but all the major retailers indicated that in principle they would publish this going forward.

Summary

Plastic from supermarket shelves represents a large portion of the total amount flooding onto the UK market each year. Located at the interface between consumers and suppliers, supermarkets occupy an almost unique position to lead the transition away from a single-use society, by substantially reducing their plastic footprint and supporting brands and customers to do the same.

In the first survey of its kind, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace UK surveyed and ranked the plastic habits of the country’s biggest grocery retailers.

We uncovered shocking statistics about the amount of plastics used each year, and an even more worrying shortage of plans in place to substantially reduce this volume. Currently, most commitments fall far short of the ambition required to reduce dependency on single-use plastics, with room for improvement even among survey leaders.

810000

10 supermarkets are placing over 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic on the market every year.

No targets5 / 10

5 of the 10 supermarket respondents have no plastic-specific reduction targets in place.

diver

Only four companies currently publish their annual plastic footprint, but all the major retailers indicated that in principle they would publish this going forward.

Our key requests for retailers are:

  • set year-on-year targets to reduce their single-use plastic footprint
  • urgently eliminate unnecessary and non-recyclable plastic packaging by the end of 2019
  • introduce transparency by publishing yearly audits of single-use plastic usage.

Our key requests for retailers are:

  • set year-on-year targets to reduce their single-use plastic footprint
  • urgently eliminate unnecessary and non-recyclable plastic packaging by the end of 2019
  • introduce transparency by publishing yearly audits of single-use plastic usage.

Impacts

Unprecedented growth in the production and sale of plastics is triggering disastrous environmental consequences. Plastic production has increased twentyfold in the past half-century and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Each year, up to 12 million tonnes of plastics leak into the oceans. Without global action, this will quadruple by 2050.

Plastic pollution is known to negatively impact more than 800 animal species including birds, marine mammals and turtles. Terrestrial wildlife is also at risk, with waste pollution in the UK killing up to 3.2 million shrews, voles and mice every year.

This has socio-economic impacts for sectors including tourism, fisheries and agriculture. There are also mounting concerns regarding the potential impacts on human health, with plastic documented in the human food chain.

The impacts of UK waste are not restricted to our shores. Our waste shipments are increasingly being sent to south-east Asian countries with the highest levels of ocean plastic leakage. There are often serious concerns around working conditions and child labour in the sorting and processing of our waste overseas.

UK citizens are beginning to reassess their relationship with plastic. Nine out of 10 people are concerned about ocean plastic pollution, and 72% feel supermarkets are not doing enough to tackle the problem.

Impacts

Unprecedented growth in the production and sale of plastics is triggering disastrous environmental consequences. Plastic production has increased twentyfold in the past half-century and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Each year, up to 12 million tonnes of plastics leak into the oceans. Without global action, this will quadruple by 2050.

Plastic pollution is known to negatively impact more than 800 animal species including birds, marine mammals and turtles. Terrestrial wildlife is also at risk, with waste pollution in the UK killing up to 3.2 million shrews, voles and mice every year.

This has socio-economic impacts for sectors including tourism, fisheries and agriculture. There are also mounting concerns regarding the potential impacts on human health, with plastic documented in the human food chain.

The impacts of UK waste are not restricted to our shores. Our waste shipments are increasingly being sent to south-east Asian countries with the highest levels of ocean plastic leakage. There are often serious concerns around working conditions and child labour in the sorting and processing of our waste overseas.

UK citizens are beginning to reassess their relationship with plastic. Nine out of 10 people are concerned about ocean plastic pollution, and 72% feel supermarkets are not doing enough to tackle the problem.

Scorecard: How the supermarkets measure up

Based on their survey responses, retailers were scored on their commitments to reduce single-use plastic, eliminate non-recyclable plastic packaging, engage with supply chains and transparent reporting and ranked accordingly.

Those scoring highest have shown ambition or promise in certain areas – Iceland in taking a bold approach for pledging to eliminate own-brand single-use plastic packaging in five years, and Morrisons in pushing forward on loose produce ranges and refillable formats. But the majority of supermarkets disappoint; tending to have vague or unambitious targets and timelines for reducing single-use plastics and eliminating non-recyclable plastics.

COOP-logo-iceland-250x180px

5.7 / 10

COOP-logo-morrisons-250x180px

5.3 / 10

Waitrose

4.7 / 10

M&S

4.6 / 10

tesco

4.5 / 10

COOP-logo-asda-250x180px

4.3 / 10

Co-op

4.2 / 10

COOP-logo-aldi-250x180px

4.1 / 10

Lidl

4.1 / 10

COOP-logo-sainsburys-250x180px

3.2 / 10

Scorecard: How the supermarkets measure up

Based on their survey responses, retailers were scored on their commitments to reduce single-use plastic, eliminate non-recyclable plastic packaging, engage with supply chains and transparent reporting and ranked accordingly.

Those scoring highest have shown ambition or promise in certain areas – Iceland in taking a bold approach for pledging to eliminate own-brand single-use plastic packaging in five years, and Morrisons in pushing forward on loose produce ranges and refillable formats. But the majority of supermarkets disappoint; tending to have vague or unambitious targets and timelines for reducing single-use plastics and eliminating non-recyclable plastics.

5.7 / 10

5.3 / 10

4.7 / 10

4.6 / 10

4.5 / 10

4.3 / 10

4.2 / 10

4.1 / 10

4.1 / 10

3.2 / 10

Single-use plastics

Packaging is among the most ubiquitous of single-use plastics. The survey sought to gain an enhanced understanding of the steps being taken to reduce companies’ single-use packaging footprint. We also asked questions on reduction targets, quantities of packaging, recyclability and recycled content levels of plastic used.

Single-use plastic packaging and overall packaging reduction targets

Iceland leads the way on reduction, committing to eliminate own-brand single-use plastic packaging by 2023. Only four other supermarkets have set plastic-specific reduction targets, and at a much slower pace; 5% per year or less. The majority of retailers are also members of the WRAP Plastics Pact, a voluntary commitment that focuses on improving recyclability of plastic packaging rather than prioritising plastic reduction and which does not include a quantitative reduction commitment.

Plastic-specific reduction target

All packaging, not plastic-specific

Single-use plastics

Packaging is among the most ubiquitous of single-use plastics. The survey sought to gain an enhanced understanding of the steps being taken to reduce companies’ single-use packaging footprint. We also asked questions on reduction targets, quantities of packaging, recyclability and recycled content levels of plastic used.

Single-use plastic packaging and overall packaging reduction targets

Iceland leads the way on reduction, committing to eliminate own-brand single-use plastic packaging by 2023. Only four other supermarkets have set plastic-specific reduction targets, and at a much slower pace; 5% per year or less. The majority of retailers are also members of the WRAP Plastics Pact, a voluntary commitment that focuses on improving recyclability of plastic packaging rather than prioritising plastic reduction and which does not include a quantitative reduction commitment.

Plastic-specific reduction target

All packaging, not plastic-specific

Iceland20 %
Asda5 %
M&S5 %
Aldi5 %
Lidl4 %
Morrisons3.6 %
Sainsbury's3.3 %
Tesco2.7 %
Co-op - Not given
Waitrose - Not given

Retailers with reusable and refillable packaging ranges for primary packaging

Providing reusable and refillable packaging ranges for customers can significantly help companies reduce their single-use plastic footprint. Supermarkets can also cut single-use packaging by offering loose, unpackaged goods. However, these options are currently thin on the ground.

Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s allow customers to use their own containers for certain products bought over-the-counter, and Morrisons is also trialling a refillable format for nuts, seeds and dried fruit. A few companies are also increasing loose fruit and veg options.

Initiatives underway

Morrisons
Sainsbury’s
Waitrose
Tesco

Currently scoping options

Aldi
Asda
Lidl
M&S

No current plans

Co-op
Iceland
Costcutter Supermarkets
McColl’s Retail Group
Nisa Retail

Retailers with reusable and refillable packaging ranges for primary packaging

Providing reusable and refillable packaging ranges for customers can significantly help companies reduce their single-use plastic footprint. Supermarkets can also cut single-use packaging by offering loose, unpackaged goods. However, these options are currently thin on the ground.

Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s allow customers to use their own containers for certain products bought over-the-counter, and Morrisons is also trialling a refillable format for nuts, seeds and dried fruit. A few companies are also increasing loose fruit and veg options.

Initiatives underway

Morrisons
Sainsbury’s
Waitrose
Tesco

Currently scoping options

Aldi
Asda
Lidl
M&S

No current plans

Co-op
Iceland
Costcutter Supermarkets
McColl’s Retail Group
Nisa Retail

Recyclability of supermarkets’ own-brand plastic packaging

This graphic provides a snapshot of how much of supermarkets’ own-brand plastic packaging is widely recyclable. Plastics that cannot be recycled have no role to play in a circular economy. As companies look to shrink their plastic footprint, these must be the first to go.

Most major supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda) have only committed to eliminate non-recyclable plastic packaging by 2025 – falling 6 years short of EIA and Greenpeace’s 2019 recommendation. Only four – Aldi, Co-op, M&S and Waitrose – have adopted more urgent timeframes.

COOP-bottle-co-op
79%

COOP-bottle-waitrose
69.9%

COOP-bottle-sainsburys
67%

COOP-bottle-tesco
65.12%

COOP-bottle-morrisons
64%

COOP-bottle-aldi
60%+

COOP-bottle-mands
58%

Proportion of supermarkets’ own brand plastic packaging that is widely recyclable

Recyclability of supermarkets’ own-brand plastic packaging

This graphic provides a snapshot of how much of supermarkets’ own-brand plastic packaging is widely recyclable. Plastics that cannot be recycled have no role to play in a circular economy. As companies look to shrink their plastic footprint, these must be the first to go.

Most major supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda) have only committed to eliminate non-recyclable plastic packaging by 2025 – falling 6 years short of EIA and Greenpeace’s 2019 recommendation. Only four – Aldi, Co-op, M&S and Waitrose – have adopted more urgent timeframes.

COOP-bottle-co-op
79%

COOP-bottle-waitrose
69.9%

COOP-bottle-sainsburys
67%

COOP-bottle-tesco
65.12%

COOP-bottle-morrisons
64%

COOP-bottle-aldi
60%+

COOP-bottle-mands
58%

Proportion of supermarkets’ own brand plastic packaging that is widely recyclable

Item specific actions and initiatives

There are certain plastic items that are particularly prominent in marine pollution – and many of these originate from supermarket shelves.

Among the top items found on beach cleans are plastic bags, straws, bottles, cutlery, cotton buds and on-the-go food wrappers. Actions taken by retailers to end sales or introduce initiatives to prevent them from entering the marine environment could make a significant difference to ocean pollution.

As shown, our results found that a staggering number of commonly littered items including plastic bags, water bottles, coffee cups and single-use plastic cutlery are being sold or given away free by supermarkets each year. While many companies have acted on plastic straws and cotton buds, there remain many key items present in marine plastic pollution that companies have not yet committed to act on.

504 million bottles of water (6 companies)

123 million pieces of cutlery (8 companies)

84 million coffee cups (8 companies)

Item specific actions and initiatives

There are certain plastic items that are particularly prominent in marine pollution – and many of these originate from supermarket shelves.

Among the top items found on beach cleans are plastic bags, straws, bottles, cutlery, cotton buds and on-the-go food wrappers. Actions taken by retailers to end sales or introduce initiatives to prevent them from entering the marine environment could make a significant difference to ocean pollution.

As shown, our results found that a staggering number of commonly littered items including plastic bags, water bottles, coffee cups and single-use plastic cutlery are being sold or given away free by supermarkets each year. While many companies have acted on plastic straws and cotton buds, there remain many key items present in marine plastic pollution that companies have not yet committed to act on.

504 million bottles of water (6 companies)

123 million pieces of cutlery (8 companies)

84 million coffee cups (8 companies)

Plastic bags

A total of 1.2 billion single-use plastic bags, more than 958 million bags for life and 1.3 billion ultra-lightweight plastic produce bags are consumed every year by the 10 supermarket respondents.

The carrier bag charge has resulted in an overall drop of 86% in single-use bag numbers, compared to a 2014 baseline. Many companies report they are phasing out single-use plastic bags, including Asda, Iceland, Lidl, Tesco, McColl’s, Morrisons and Waitrose. Unfortunately, figures indicate that many customers use so-called ‘bags for life’ bags – which are generally heavier and contain more plastic – as a single-use option particularly where these are available at low cost. Asda and Sainsbury’s saw increases in 5p bags sold between 2016/17 and 2017/18 of up to 16%. 

Retailers must act to drive further reductions in plastic bag use, rather than undermining the success of the 5p charge by offering ‘bags for life’ at similar prices. Banning sales or significantly increasing the price could help drive further decreases.

Plastic bags

A total of 1.2 billion single-use plastic bags, more than 958 million bags for life and 1.3 billion ultra-lightweight plastic produce bags are consumed every year by the 10 supermarket respondents.

The carrier bag charge has resulted in an overall drop of 86% in single-use bag numbers, compared to a 2014 baseline. Many companies report they are phasing out single-use plastic bags, including Asda, Iceland, Lidl, Tesco, McColl’s, Morrisons and Waitrose. Unfortunately, figures indicate that many customers use so-called ‘bags for life’ bags – which are generally heavier and contain more plastic – as a single-use option particularly where these are available at low cost. Asda and Sainsbury’s saw increases in 5p bags sold between 2016/17 and 2017/18 of up to 16%. 

Retailers must act to drive further reductions in plastic bag use, rather than undermining the success of the 5p charge by offering ‘bags for life’ at similar prices. Banning sales or significantly increasing the price could help drive further decreases.

Supply chains

Plastics that customers find in the aisle are just one part of a supermarket’s total footprint. From the tiny pellets used to manufacture all plastic items, to fields of polytunnels on the farm, plastic is pervasive throughout the supply chain.

Most retailers are only in the early stages of monitoring and managing plastic in supply chains. It does not appear that the UK’s largest supermarkets are systematically applying their buying power to encourage brands to eliminate single-use or non-recyclable plastics.

Engaging with brand suppliers

Branded goods – from huge multinational companies like Coca-Cola through to small independent labels – represent varying proportions of supermarket’s sales, from 40-60% (Co-op, Iceland, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose) to less than 5% (Aldi, M&S).

Retailers can leverage their buying power to engage with brand suppliers on plastics. Disappointingly, few companies said that they were actively encouraging the adoption of ambitious strategies and targets on plastic, with most engagements limited to information sharing.

Packaging in supply chains

Grocery retailers use secondary and tertiary packaging to protect products during storage, transportation and distribution. Four companies provided data on their supply chain packaging, accounting for between 1-8% of their overall single-use plastic packaging footprint. All supermarkets use reusable distribution containers for the transportation of produce, although the extent to which these are used across different product lines varies.

Working with agricultural suppliers

Use of plastic in farming has intensified in recent years, including with plastic greenhouse film, polytunnels and mulching to enhance crop production. Where these are not recovered, they are often buried in the soil, abandoned in fields or watercourses, and even illegally burnt. This can lead to leakage into the environment, contributing to marine pollution.

Retailers generally indicated that this was an issue they were only just beginning to explore, without comprehensive policies or programmes yet in place

Plastic pellets

Small plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, are melted down and used in the manufacturing of all plastic products. They can enter the environment at every stage of the production, manufacturing and recycling process.

Few grocery retailers are currently engaged in actions to prevent pellet loss. Co-op and M&S referenced Operation Clean Sweep, an industry-led scheme which provides a toolbox of best practices to prevent pellet loss but has limited checks on implementation. Co-op are leading efforts to strengthen standards on pellet management, Tesco includes pellet loss prevention in its quality standards policy.

Working with fishery suppliers

Each year, over 640,000 tonnes of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (known as ‘ghost gear’) enters the ocean, making it a major source of marine pollution.

Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and M&S are engaged with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative which seeks to reduce the volume of lost gear entering the ocean. Co-op and Lidl are also considering the initiative. Concerningly, four respondents, including two of the UK’s largest supermarkets (Asda and Aldi), said that this was not an issue they were currently working on.

Supply chains

Plastics that customers find in the aisle are just one part of a supermarket’s total footprint. From the tiny pellets used to manufacture all plastic items, to fields of polytunnels on the farm, plastic is pervasive throughout the supply chain.

Most retailers are only in the early stages of monitoring and managing plastic in supply chains. It does not appear that the UK’s largest supermarkets are systematically applying their buying power to encourage brands to eliminate single-use or non-recyclable plastics.

Engaging with brand suppliers

Branded goods – from huge multinational companies like Coca-Cola through to small independent labels – represent varying proportions of supermarket’s sales, from 40-60% (Co-op, Iceland, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose) to less than 5% (Aldi, M&S).

Retailers can leverage their buying power to engage with brand suppliers on plastics. Disappointingly, few companies said that they were actively encouraging the adoption of ambitious strategies and targets on plastic, with most engagements limited to information sharing.

Packaging in supply chains

Grocery retailers use secondary and tertiary packaging to protect products during storage, transportation and distribution. Four companies provided data on their supply chain packaging, accounting for between 1-8% of their overall single-use plastic packaging footprint. All supermarkets use reusable distribution containers for the transportation of produce, although the extent to which these are used across different product lines varies.

Working with agricultural suppliers

Use of plastic in farming has intensified in recent years, including with plastic greenhouse film, polytunnels and mulching to enhance crop production. Where these are not recovered, they are often buried in the soil, abandoned in fields or watercourses, and even illegally burnt. This can lead to leakage into the environment, contributing to marine pollution.

Retailers generally indicated that this was an issue they were only just beginning to explore, without comprehensive policies or programmes yet in place.

Plastic pellets

Small plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, are melted down and used in the manufacturing of all plastic products. They can enter the environment at every stage of the production, manufacturing and recycling process.

Few grocery retailers are currently engaged in actions to prevent pellet loss. Co-op and M&S referenced Operation Clean Sweep, an industry-led scheme which provides a toolbox of best practices to prevent pellet loss but has limited checks on implementation. Co-op are leading efforts to strengthen standards on pellet management, Tesco includes pellet loss prevention in its quality standards policy.

Working with fishery suppliers

Each year, over 640,000 tonnes of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (known as ‘ghost gear’) enters the ocean, making it a major source of marine pollution.

Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and M&S are engaged with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative which seeks to reduce the volume of lost gear entering the ocean. Co-op and Lidl are also considering the initiative. Concerningly, four respondents, including two of the UK’s largest supermarkets (Asda and Aldi), said that this was not an issue they were currently working on.

Customer and staff engagement

From the millions of customers passing through supermarket doors every day to the staff working at stores up and down the country, grocery retailers interact with a wide variety of stakeholders whose behaviour and actions collectively shape the UK’s plastic habits.

All supermarkets reported initiatives underway to engage with staff and consumers about reducing plastic waste. These took a variety of forms, including internal communications; staff education and trainings programmes; customer engagement and awareness raising and coordinating community projects. There remains scope for significant scaling-up of activities if retailers are to fully leverage these opportunities.

Policy engagement

Several important EU and UK legislative changes are being considered over the 2018/19 period. Through their engagements with policy makers, companies can support the adoption of ambitious regulations and taxes to reduce dependency on single-use plastics.

Companies were broadly supportive of legislative reform, including the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers to increase collection and recycling rates. Indeed, some companies are already trialling these in store.

Three quarters of respondents said they would welcome an extension of the current UK microbead ban to cover microplastics contained in all household goods. Five major supermarkets were also supportive of single-use plastic item bans and taxes.

Customer and staff engagement

From the millions of customers passing through supermarket doors every day to the staff working at stores up and down the country, grocery retailers interact with a wide variety of stakeholders whose behaviour and actions collectively shape the UK’s plastic habits.

All supermarkets reported initiatives underway to engage with staff and consumers about reducing plastic waste. These took a variety of forms, including internal communications; staff education and trainings programmes; customer engagement and awareness raising and coordinating community projects. There remains scope for significant scaling-up of activities if retailers are to fully leverage these opportunities.

Policy engagement

Several important EU and UK legislative changes are being considered over the 2018/19 period. Through their engagements with policy makers, companies can support the adoption of ambitious regulations and taxes to reduce dependency on single-use plastics.

Companies were broadly supportive of legislative reform, including the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers to increase collection and recycling rates. Indeed, some companies are already trialling these in store.

Three quarters of respondents said they would welcome an extension of the current UK microbead ban to cover microplastics contained in all household goods. Five major supermarkets were also supportive of single-use plastic item bans and taxes.

Transparency

By refusing to participate in the survey, Ocado, Spar, Premier Stores, Londis, Lifestyle Express, and Best-One demonstrated the lowest levels of transparency.

All supermarket respondents said they would in principle commit to report transparently on their plastic footprint. Co-op, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda are the only supermarkets who have so far published their plastic packaging footprints online.

Transparency

By refusing to participate in the survey, Ocado, Spar, Premier Stores, Londis, Lifestyle Express, and Best-One demonstrated the lowest levels of transparency.

All supermarket respondents said they would in principle commit to report transparently on their plastic footprint. Co-op, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda are the only supermarkets who have so far published their plastic packaging footprints online.

Conclusions: Performance of retailers against our key criteria

Introduce annual targets to reduce single-use plastic footprint

Targets to reduce single-use packaging fall far short of the ambition required to urgently halt the tide of plastic pollution. Moreover, only five of the UK’s major supermarkets have measurable, plastic-specific reduction targets in place. Most companies are reducing their footprint at a much slower pace than scoreboard leader Iceland, with much focus still on reducing the weight of plastic, rather than removing it from the shelf entirely. There is considerable scope for future reductions to be achieved through the scaling-up of loose product ranges and refillable packaging formats.

Urgently eliminate unnecessary and non-recyclable plastic packaging by 2019

Plastics that cannot be recycled have no role to play in a circular economy, and the lack of urgency around their elimination is concerning. Most respondents have only committed to remove non-recyclable plastics by 2025, with more ambitious commitments being made by M&S and Aldi (2022), and Co-op and Waitrose (2023).

Introduce transparency by publishing yearly audits of single-use plastic use

Public disclosures of data are key for ensuring accountability of the commitments grocery retailers make to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics. Ocado, Spar, Premier Stores, Londis, Lifestyle Express, and Best-One demonstrated the lowest levels of transparency. Among survey respondents, commitments to transparency were reassuringly widespread, with Co-op, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda already disclosing their plastic packaging footprint.

Conclusions: Performance of retailers against our key criteria

Introduce annual targets to reduce single-use plastic footprint

Targets to reduce single-use packaging fall far short of the ambition required to urgently halt the tide of plastic pollution. Moreover, only five of the UK’s major supermarkets have measurable, plastic-specific reduction targets in place. Most companies are reducing their footprint at a much slower pace than scoreboard leader Iceland, with much focus still on reducing the weight of plastic, rather than removing it from the shelf entirely. There is considerable scope for future reductions to be achieved through the scaling-up of loose product ranges and refillable packaging formats.

Urgently eliminate unnecessary and non-recyclable plastic packaging by 2019

Plastics that cannot be recycled have no role to play in a circular economy, and the lack of urgency around their elimination is concerning. Most respondents have only committed to remove non-recyclable plastics by 2025, with more ambitious commitments being made by M&S and Aldi (2022), and Co-op and Waitrose (2023).

Introduce transparency by publishing yearly audits of single-use plastic use

Public disclosures of data are key for ensuring accountability of the commitments grocery retailers make to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics. Ocado, Spar, Premier Stores, Londis, Lifestyle Express, and Best-One demonstrated the lowest levels of transparency. Among survey respondents, commitments to transparency were reassuringly widespread, with Co-op, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda already disclosing their plastic packaging footprint.

Recommendations

Recommendations to retailers

Single-use plastic packaging

Recommendations

Recommendations to retailers

Single-use plastic packaging

Introduce plastic-specific, measurable (quantitative) year-on-year reduction targets for single-use packaging
Commit to urgently eliminate non-recyclable plastics from own-brand ranges, prioritising the most problematic materials and formats such as PVC, polystyrene and black plastics
Significantly expand refillable and reusable packaging options and unpackaged ranges across stores and product lines

Single-use plastic items

Single-use plastic items

End sales and provision of single-use items that commonly leak into the environment and improve collection incentives, eco-design and labelling

Supply chains

Supply chains

Engage brand suppliers on reducing single-use plastics by encouraging target-setting and the adoption of policies
Work with fishery suppliers on the reduction and responsible management of fisheries-related plastic waste
Introduce a comprehensive policy requiring reusable distribution containers for transportation of all produce
Work with fruit and vegetable suppliers on the reduction and responsible management of plastics used on the farm to prevent pollution of soil, rivers and oceans
Introduce requirements for suppliers to implement best practice measures to prevent plastic pellet loss, with auditing and reporting requirements

Engagement with staff, customers and policy makers

Engagement with staff, customers and policy makers

Introduce schemes and initiatives to shift staff and consumer behaviour on plastics, through incentivising reusable and refillable options, awareness-raising initiatives, staff training, information-sharing platforms and community engagement campaigns
Encourage the introduction of legislative measures to address the drivers of plastic pollution, including: the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme for all drinks containers; wholesale reform of Extended Producer Responsibility; plastic item bans and levies; and the extension of the microbeads ban to other products

Recommendations to policy makers

Recommendations to policy makers

Action by retailers and brands must be supported and incentivised by government policies that provide a clear signal to businesses to reform their use of single-use plastics. Three-quarters of respondents supported introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme. The UK Government must develop a suite of policy measures to tackle plastic pollution at source, implementing a combination of bans, reduction targets, taxes, charges and Deposit Return Scheme. It must also undertake wholesale reform of extended producer responsibility regulation to stimulate a reduction in single-use plastics and incentivise reusable and refillable packaging, alongside ensuring easy, harmonised and cost-effective recycling in the UK.

Checking out on plastics
The full report

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