Environmental charity Greenpeace has named and shamed supermarkets in the UK that aren’t yet doing enough to reduce plastic pollution.
Of all the top 10 major supermarkets, Sainsbury’s has come out “the worst in class,” according to analysis released by the organisation on Friday, followed by Tesco.
Concern over ocean plastic has skyrocketed over the past year, with 9 in 10 people now saying they are worried about the amount of plastic making its way into the oceans, according to a 2018 survey.
It means that supermarkets are increasingly under the microscope when it comes to shopping options for environmentally concerned customers.
And there’s still a great deal for the industry to be doing if we’re going to put an end to ocean plastic pollution.
Greenpeace’s analysis is based on publicly available plastic pledges from the top 10 UK supermarkets, made since January last year.
“Sainsbury’s knows that plastics pollute our oceans and harm wildlife,” said Elena Polisano, ocean plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK, in a statement. “They know that customers care about cutting plastic. And they know their competitors have outdone them on plastics reductions measures.”
“But they remain worst in class,” she continued. “If supermarkets fail to cut their plastic packaging, they’re sending pollution on a conveyer belt that could end up in our rivers and seas. This has to stop. Sainsbury’s must eliminate unnecessary and unrecyclable plastic by 2020.”
The analysis looked at reduction in tonnes between Jan. 1, 2018, and March 27, 2019, reduction in units for the same period, and reduction measures announced or introduced for the same period.
It found that Sainsbury’s has cut just 77 tonnes of plastic packaging, compared to the 6,500 tonnes cut out by Asda, 3,766 tonnes by Morrison’s, and 2.543.5 tonnes by Aldi. The average amount cut out was 2,217 tonnes — and Tesco was the only major supermarket not to publish this information.
In response to the analysis, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson told Global Citizen: “Greenpeace says we have pledged to reduce plastic by 77 tonnes and, in fact, we will reduce plastic by well over 2,400 tonnes in the next 12 months alone. For Sainsbury’s branded products, 67% of the plastic that we use is widely recyclable and 100% will be widely recyclable packaging by 2025.”
“We have ambitious targets to continue to reduce plastic across our product range,” the company added.
Sainsbury’s said the 77 tonnes cited by Greenpeace referred to “just one initiative” — removing 77 tonnes of plastic from greetings cards.
The spokesperson also cited other initiatives including: 175 tonnes of plastic content reduced from water bottles, 65 tonnes from ready meals, 50 tonnes from the plastic stems of cotton buds, and 61 tonnes from changes to poultry packaging, among others. According to Sainsbury’s, these add up to 2,482 tonnes in total.
The analysis was released to mark the launch of a new campaign targeting supermarkets that aren’t yet doing enough to reduce ocean plastic pollution. The campaign calls for Sainsbury’s to set yearly plastic reduction targets, and start by eliminating unnecessary and unrecyclable plastic by 2020.
For reduction in units, Sainsbury’s hasn’t published this data. Meanwhile, Morrisons had cut out 557.5 million units, Marks & Spencer has cut out 527.5 million, and Co-op has cut 505 million. Tesco also performed poorly in this area, cutting out just 1 million units.
The average reduction in units was 266.3 million, for those that announced how many units of plastic had been cut.
And when it comes to the number of measures actually announced or introduced since January 2018, Sainsbury’s has announced five, compared to an average of nine.
Sainsbury’s pledges include, according to Greenpeace: removing plastic wrapping on greetings cards, by April 1 this year, removing plastic cups and cutlery from its head office, reducing the amount of plastics in some food cartons, and selling cauliflowers and some bananas loose. It also offers a discount on hot drinks when customers have a reusable cup.
Marks & Spencer and Waitrose meanwhile have both announced or introduced 13 measures, Asda has made 12, and Iceland has made 11. Lidl and Co-op have made four and five respectively, and Tesco has made six.
Greenpeace also highlighted, however, that Tesco has this week begun trialling the sale of 45 lines of loose fruit and veg. The store is also phasing out a million plastic straws from its cafes, and will this year be the first major supermarket to try out refillable packaging.
Supermarkets in general are putting too much emphasis on recycling plastics, according to the organisation, and not enough on actually cutting them out entirely.
Every year, the top 10 UK supermarkets introduce over 800,000 tonnes of single-use plastic packaging into the market.
In April 2018, the UK Plastics Pact saw most major supermarkets — including Sainsbury’s — voluntarily commit to eliminating recyclable plastic packaging by “as late as 2025,” added Greenpeace.
But the targets — which are not backed up in law — laid out in the pact, according to Greenpeace, “don’t necessarily entail an overall plastics reduction.”