You probably agree that it can be challenging to avoid plastics when shopping groceries in a regular supermarket. With all the packaging, it can sometimes feel as though we end up with more plastic than food.
Here at the GreenSeas Trust, we like to buy our fresh fruit and veggies plastic-free at local markets or support small zero-waste shops. However, society’s greater awareness of the downsides of plastic has also led to a slow but steady development in supermarkets. Even large chains are beginning to question the necessity of their packaging.
This time last year, we already asked ourselves the key question: ‘Can supermarkets do more to reduce plastics?’ It’s high time we revisit the topic and investigate what supermarkets have been up to.
The Challenge of Change
Several UK supermarkets have developed ambitious action plans for the reduction, replacement or removal of plastic packaging by the year 2025.
Waitrose have reported a significant reduction in plastic use over the last couple of years. They now promise to make all of their own-brand packaging reusable, recyclable or home compostable by 2023. Refill-stations for e.g. rice, cereals or pasta are available in a few selected stores, which allows customers to bring their own containers. We think that is a step in the right direction. Why not tweet them to ask for a refill station in your local Waitrose?
M&S are trying to reduce the amount of plastic found in their stores. They too have set up ‘Fill Your Own’ stations in some braches, supporting customers to reduce and reuse with over 50 lines of refillable grocery essentials and frozen fruit.
Co-op attempts to drive recyclability and the creation of a circular economy. Their own-brand packaging is now recyclable and they have introduced a soft plastics recycling scheme that allows customers to return packaging to recycling units in stores. Additionally, they were among the first to introduce biodegradable carrier bags to replace regular plastic bags.
Lidl scored top marks in a a 2022 survey by Which of supermarket plastic use. They found, the food retailer produces smaller amounts of plastic for the volume of items it sells compared to most rivals and has one of the highest proportions of own-brand plastic that’s recyclable in household collections.
Difficulties & Human Ignorance
Despite the obvious importance of environmental issues, some people simply do not care about the negative effects a seemingly small decision can have. Supermarkets which give customers the chance to return specific plastics to in-store recycle stations have repeatedly found carelessly added objects that do not belong in these recycle bins. This obviously makes the entire process of implementing positive change more difficult.
For practical reasons, it can be tricky to improve the packaging for processed food e.g. pizza that is made in warm, humid factories. According to Co-op, only very specific cardboard can replace polystyrene pizza discs. Other packaging, however is purely chosen for aesthetic benefits, and is thus easier to remove or replace. Co-op used to sell their sushi on black plastic trays, which have now been replaced with clear recyclable trays and black cardboard sleeves.
Last, but not least
Yes, plastic is everywhere. But, as shoppers we have considerable power over everything that is being sold – and the packaging it is sold in. If we as consumers, en masse change our shopping habits to reflect our environmental concerns, you can bet supermarkets will follow the trail and use their might to bring about meaningful changes in packaging.