Plastic is so yesterday.

And British supermarket chain Iceland know it: it’s aiming to be the world’s first mainstream retailer to entirely eliminate plastic packaging from its own-brand products.

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It will affect over a thousand of Iceland’s own-label products, with new ranges replacing plastic with easily recyclable paper-based trays. Research showed 80% of 5,000 shoppers backed the idea. Proof, of course, that the customer is (almost) always right.

Iceland has already relegated plastic straws from its own-label range to history, and is also planning a plastic bottle deposit return scheme too.

A date has been set. Mark your diaries and set your DeLorian for 2023, everyone. Add a Beyonce album and it’s probably utopia.

The world uses 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, while the UK uses 3.7 million tonnes annually. According to the Environmental Agency, 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste was generated in 2014. Yet only a third of all consumers’ recyclable plastics are actually recycled in the UK every year, as the rest is either incinerated or goes to landfill.

But private businesses are waking up to the environmental cost. Pret a Manger has doubled its discount for customers who bring a reusable coffee cup for hot drinks, as the UK throws away 5,000 coffee cups every single minute. Tesco has scrapped single-use plastic bags altogether, replacing them with a 10p bag for life, made up of 94% recycled plastic, while Sainsbury's has pledged to reduce all packaging by half by 2020.

“The world has woken up to the scourge of plastics,” said Richard Walker, Iceland’s managing director. “A truckload is entering our oceans every minute, causing untold damage to our marine environment and ultimately humanity — since we all depend on the oceans for our survival. The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change.”

So, five years. The revolution has begun, and the clock is ticking. And the government is on board, albeit on a slightly different calendar. Theresa May announced last week that the UK will endeavour to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 to allow future generations to enjoy a “beautiful environment” within 25 years — and oversaw some important changes in the process.

Read More:9 Brilliant Ways the UK Is Cracking Down on Plastic Pollution

Environment minister Michael Gove said that Britain will “set the global gold standard” on eliminating plastic, and on January 9 announced an immediate ban on microbeads, tiny but harmful pieces of plastic that leaks into the ocean from everyday wash products and are often mistaken for food by marine life.

Global Citizen previously reported on the new rules, including an extension of the 5p plastic bag tax from large retailers with 250 or more employees to every store across the country, excluding some pharmacies and pet shops that sell goldfish. There’s already been a 90% fall in plastic bag use since the 2015 tax was first introduced.

Iceland’s announcement has proved popular already, although a wider question remains. If a chain that large can commit to such a change within a relatively short timeframe, what is stopping their competition from following suit? The people want more — and Iceland are eager to egg them on.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No.12 for sustainable consumption and production. Take action with us here.


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By James Hitchings-Hales