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The War on Plastics

18 July 2019

Donal Denvir, General Manager, Great Britain, Bord Bia – The Irish Food Board



It’s next to impossible to open a food and drink trade magazine, or indeed the national press, in the UK these days without coming across multiple articles detailing the race of retailers to become “plastic-free.” In June of this year, Waitrose announced the launch of a plastic packaging free trial at one of its stores in Oxford.


Honing in on fruit, vegetables, grains and even wine, the supermarket is inviting customers to bring in their own reusable containers in which to gather food and drink, according to a report in The Evening Standard. The daily newspaper notes that participants in the scheme are required to weigh their containers empty, then again when full. The scales take off the weight of the container before printing a priced label to be scanned at checkout. Fruit and vegetables were viewed as a ‘priority area’, with customers ‘often’ asking for produce to be made available, loose. In view of which, 160 lines have been moved out of packaging – a step Waitrose believe marks “the most loose fruit and vegetable lines offered by any national supermarket”.  


But Waitrose aren’t the only ones looking to make progress in the area of plastic use, or the lack thereof.


Indeed, it was Sainsbury's who became the first UK supermarket to remove plastic for its loose fruit, vegetables and bakery items, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.


By September of this year, paper bags will be available to customers for loose bakery items. Customers buying loose fruit and vegetables will either be able to bring their own bags or buy a re-usable bag made from recycled materials.


This alone will reduce their plastic output by 489 tonnes, and the retailer is also reducing the amount of plastic used for its packaged fruits and vegetables, the newspaper notes.


Meanwhile, Iceland has promised to eliminate plastic entirely from its own-brand products by 2023, according to the Evening Standard.  


Co-op has pledged to remove all hard-to-recycle dark and black plastic by 2020, and to eradicate the use of all hard-to-recycle plastic completely from its products by 2023, the paper notes.


Tesco’s plastic-free approach focuses on the creation of a ‘closed-loop system’, a practice to ensure all packaging is ultimately recycled. In May of last year, Tesco pledged to ban hard-to-recycle plastics from all of its own brand products, including: PVC – used in stretch film which covers things like punnets of mushrooms – polystyrene (used as pizza base packaging), oxy degradable materials, polylactic acid, water soluble bio plastics (e.g. Plantic) and industrial compostable materials. To that end, they informed suppliers of their intentions.