25 May 2022
Supermarkets’ plastic policy is under fire. This week the Under wraps? What Europe’s supermarkets aren’t telling us about plastic report published by the Break Free From Plastic movement concluded that there is a huge lack of ambition among large European supermarket chains to reduce their use of plastic.
As a major source of the plastic soup, supermarkets are instrumental in reducing plastic packaging. The report shows that the sector is characterised by a lack of transparency and the tendency to keep measures under wraps, such as the introduction of a deposit system.
In producing the report, a coalition of 20 NGOs, including Plastic Soup Foundation, sent 130 supermarket chains in 13 European countries a questionnaire. Only 30 supermarket chains responded in writing.
The supermarkets that did respond were not even able to supply the most basic information. And where there is no information, it is impossible to measure progress. The information requested included:
- the scale of the plastic footprint (the annual total weight of plastic, the total number of plastic packaging)
- the percentage of recycled plastic in packaging (only 13 chains reported on this)
- The share of the products that are sold or will be sold in bulk or in refillable or reusable packaging.
MOST SUPERMARKETS RESIST DEPOSIT SYSTEMS
Only five of the 74 supermarkets (ALDI Ireland, ALDI Denmark, ALDI UK, Lidl UK and BioCoop in France) actively support the wide implementation of deposit systems for drinking bottles. Many more supermarkets are apparently lobbying behind the scenes against the introduction of deposits or the expansion of existing deposit systems.
Many chains are members of a national Plastic Pact and some have signed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s (EMF) New Plastic Economy Global Commitment. These are organisations that cannot impose sanctions if members do not achieve the goals to which they committed themselves. Some supermarkets point to their annual reports that they submit to the EMF, while these are not made public.
The report labels the membership of these organisations as mostly a tactic to have the public believe that they are implementing a serious plastic policy and to have a conscious strategy in place to avoid regulation by authorities.
SINGLE-USE PLASTIC IS UNFORTUNATELY THE NORM
Recycling instead of reduction is the most important strategy that the supermarkets have adopted. What this means is that all packaging can be recycled. However, prevention and reuse should be the leading strategies. Only a very small number of supermarkets appear to put any serious efforts into reducing their single-use plastic and other packaging materials by transitioning to systems for reuse.
Among the recommendations of the report are:
- to be completely transparent about their plastic footprint (in numbers and weight) of house brands and A brands, and to make this information public
- to draw up clear enforceable goals and methods so that progress can be monitored
- to no longer replace plastic packaging with other packaging, but strive for a total reduction in packaging by encouraging reuse
- to constructively support legislation targeted at reducing plastic, and to no longer use greenwashing and other diversionary tactics.
You may also be interested in:
What does Albert Heijn’s plastic report actually stand for?
Ahold Delhaize’s plastic policy has improved but still falls short
Plastic does not stop food waste
Scientists respond to the decision to designate BPA as a substance of very high concern
Join the Refill Revolution!