Sainsbury’s has announced a new pledge to halve the amount of plastic packaging in its store by 2025 — claiming to be the UK’s first major retailer to make a commitment of that scale.
Currently, Sainsbury’s gets through about 120,000 tonnes of plastic packaging a year. And in 2018, it managed to reduce its plastics by just 1%.
Now, however, the store has announced its “bold ambition” that will cover all branded food packaging, Sainsbury’s own-brand food packaging, and packaging across all of the store’s operations.
And it’s inviting the public and businesses to play a part in shaping the store’s new anti-plastic approach, asking for ideas for other ways to reduce plastics in store too.
“We have set ourselves a bold ambition because we understand that we urgently need reduce our impact on the planet and to help drive change across our industry,” said the supermarket’s CEO, Mike Coupe.
“Reducing plastic and packaging is not easy,” he added. “Packaging plays a vital role in keeping our food safe and fresh and minimising food waste. We must therefore find alternatives to plastic that protect the quality of our food while minimising our impact on the environment.”
“We can’t do this on our own and we will be asking our suppliers and our customers to work with us to help us make this important change,” he said.
You can submit your ideas to help the supermarket reduce plastics through its online portal here.
The changes in store should be seen by the end of this month, according to Sainsbury’s. It’s going to begin with eliminating all plastic bags from its fruit and veg section and from the bakery aisles — removing 489 tonnes of plastic just like that!
Instead, shoppers can bring their own bags, buy reusable bags in store made from recycled plastic bottles, or just buy items loose.
The supermarket did reportedly consider bringing in paper bags instead, but a spokesperson said the net environmental impact would actually have been worse.
“There’s the deforestation link, and they are heavier and bulkier [than plastic,]” said spokesperson Rebecca Reilly. “They take up space in transport, so there are knock-on carbon emissions.”
But the changes already outlined by the supermarket seem to have impressed environmental charity Greenpeace UK.
Earlier this year, Greenpeace UK came down hard on Sainsbury’s — calling the retailer the “worst in class” in analysis of what the UK’s top 10 supermarkets were doing to reduce plastic pollution.
Greenpeace UK told Global Citizen that Friday’s announcement, however, marked a “victory for the tens of thousands of customers who lobbied them to do better on plastic.”
“We commend Sainsbury’s for listening and recognising that huge plastic reduction and bringing in refillable packaging at scale are vital to tackling the plastic pollution crisis,” said Louise Edge, head of Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign.
“Sainsbury’s should prioritise these solutions rather than switching to other types of throwaway packaging and we stand ready to help them achieve this ambitious goal,” she said.
The store is also working together with Greenpeace to help deliver its commitment — and it says it’ll be reporting back publicly on its progress every six months.
Sainsbury’s said in its announcement that “following rigorous analysis of its plastic footprint” it had identified its main problem areas as being: milk bottles, packaging for fruit and vegetables, fizzy drinks, water, and fruit juices.
But it pointed out that tackling these problem areas will “require customers to change their behaviour” — with the store saying “it cannot achieve this commitment on its own.”
The appetite from customers for a more plastic-free way of life is already there. In April, YouGov research found that 80% of consumers were trying to reduce their plastic waste — and half said they’d be willing to pay higher prices for more eco-friendly packaging.
Among the supermarket’s other suggested changes are:
- Switching to alternative materials
- Using lighter-weight plastics
- Introducing refillable packaging at scale
The process is kicking off on Friday, with Sainsbury’s co-hosting a summit with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to bring together suppliers, researchers, and government stakeholders to identify innovative solutions.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, said: “This is a brilliant example of the integral role business has to play in cutting plastic waste, empowering consumers to make more sustainable choices.”