Supermarkets could make big cuts to the amount of plastic waste they produce by zeroing in on just a few ‘problem products’ responsible for a big chunk of their plastic footprint, a groundbreaking new report has found.
The report from Greenpeace models how UK supermarkets could make significant reductions to the amount of plastic they produce, by focusing their attention on the packaging for 54 grocery categories. The analysis also shows that changing the packaging for just 13 of these categories, for popular groceries, like fizzy drinks, fruit and vegetables, and household detergents, supermarkets could reduce plastic by approximately 35%, remove 45 billion pieces of supermarket plastic, and remove more than 300,000 tonnes of plastic. This is the equivalent weight of more than 7,000 supermarket delivery lorries, that if lined up nose to tail could lead from Birmingham to Manchester.
Today’s report, Unpacked: How supermarkets can cut plastic packaging in half by 2025, shares brand new data analysis for the amount of plastic packaging our supermarkets are producing each year, based on 2019 supermarket figures. It features new calculations for the estimated weight, sales units and number of components (pieces) of plastic in our collective grocery shopping, and the numbers are representative of the entire UK supermarket sector, which has never been done before. Previous research has not detailed the number of plastic components, such as the individual lids, labels and films, and previous studies have not examined the plastic in terms of product categories, like bottled water, fizzy drinks, household detergents and vegetables.
Greenpeace’s report not only provides the most up-to-date calculations of how much plastic packaging our supermarkets are using, but also explains a model for how all UK supermarkets could cut their plastic packaging by 50% by 2025. Importantly, the report provides a unique sector-wide view for the first time. By identifying the “hotspot” product categories which the new data sets suggest put the most single-use plastic onto the market, the report points out the product categories that have the highest potential for plastic reduction.
Christina Dixon, senior oceans campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: "Supermarkets are busily completing our annual survey about their progress in reducing single use and other unnecessary plastics from their operations, and later this year EIA and Greenpeace will report back on progress. The last two years have shown a year on year increase in the plastic footprints of UK supermarkets so we'd love to see some meaningful reductions that match the level of ambition required to radically reduce the amount of plastic pollution in our environment. A key priority for us is transparency and ensuring we get accurate data from supermarkets that truly reflect the scale of the challenge we are facing.”
The forthcoming Environment Bill is an opportunity for the government to take meaningful action on plastic pollution and set legally-binding targets for retailers to reduce single-use plastics by 50% by 2025. Ministers should put tax discounts in place for producers and retailers that sell their products in reusable and refillable packaging to incentivise the vital move away from disposable packaging to reuse systems. This would enable all retailers to benefit from reducing throwaway packaging by rolling out reuse systems, and wouldn’t mean this move is only an option for those with the greatest revenue or most control due to a high proportion of own-brand products.