M&S removes plastic packaging and 'best-before' dates from produce

Retail giant Marks & Spencer (M&S) has begun trialling dozens of plastic-free fruit and vegetable lines without 'best-before' date stickers, in a bid to reduce consumer packaging and food waste outputs.

M&S has employed trained greengrocers as part of the trial, to ensure customers know how to weigh and preserve their shopping

M&S has employed trained greengrocers as part of the trial, to ensure customers know how to weigh and preserve their shopping

Under the three-month pilot scheme, which began today (16 January) at M&S’s Tolworth store in Surbiton, plastic packaging and ‘best-before’ dates have been removed from more than 90 of the chain’s own-brand produce lines.

‘Hard’ fruits and vegetables such as apples, potatoes and bananas are being sold loose, with shoppers encouraged to use paper or reusable bags to store them. Plastic trays and film on more perishable soft fruits and berries, meanwhile, have been replaced with compostable alternatives.

In order to ensure that customers know how to handle and weigh produce, M&S has added a team of trained greengrocers to the Tolworth store. These employees will provide tips on how best to preserve fresh produce to prevent food waste at home.

“We know our customers want to play their part in cutting out plastic, while as a business our goal is to become zero-waste by 2025, which is why we’re working hard to reduce the amount of plastic packaging we use without compromising on food quality and contributing to waste,” M&S’s head of food sustainability Louise Nicholls said.

“Our trial at Tolworth is an important milestone in our plastic reduction journey and bringing back the traditional greengrocer will play a key part in educating our customers.”

A new plan for plastics

During the trial, M&S will track changes in the store’s plastic and food waste outputs and carry out consumer surveys to gauge public attitudes towards produce without plastic packaging or ‘best-before’ dates. This data will help the company to develop a new approach to waste, which will be implemented across its 1,000+ stores.

The retailer has confirmed that this updated approach will see plastic produce bags replaced with recyclable paper alternatives across all of its food stores by the end of March.

A further confirmed change is a phase-out of plastic barcode stickers on produce lines, with an “eco-friendly” solution currently under development. A completion date for this move has not yet been announced.

These two moves alone, M&S claims, will reduce its plastic footprint by 580 tonnes within two years.

The retailer has already removed plastic sleeves from its knitwear, plastic-based teabags from its cafes and food stores, plastic cutlery from its ‘on-the-go’ outlets and non-recyclable coffee pods in its cafes as part of its bid to become a zero-waste business by 2025.

Its specific plan for plastics is headlined by a 2022 target of ensuring that all plastic packaging that could end up with customers will be “widely recycled”. As part of its aim, the retailer is planning to develop one recyclable plastic polymer for use across all of its plastic packaging.

Whetting consumer appetite

The announcement from M&S comes amid a string of research suggesting the general public are fully on board with the need for retailers to tackle plastic packaging waste.

One survey of 5,000 consumers last spring, for example, found that 80% would endorse a supermarket’s move to go plastic-free, while 91% would be more likely to encourage friends and family to shop there as a result of such a pledge.

More recently, a similar study of 7,000 UK shoppers found that that 92% would prefer to buy a plastic-free unit of their favourite product than one housed in plastic, with more than one-third (36%) having already begun boycotting certain brands over packaging sustainability concerns. This rises to more than one-half (56%) among millennials, who will make up three-quarters of Britain’s workforce by 2030.


Taking place on Thursday: edie's single-use plastics business transformation webinar

Sustainability professionals seeking more insight on how best to reducing or eliminate single-use plastics can tune in to edie's free webinar, entitled 'Single-use plastics: How to lead a business transformation', on Thursday (17 January) at 2pm. 

Featuring expert speakers from A Plastic Planet, Sky and Cranswick, the hour-long session will combine best-practice case studies with expert insights to give you a clear way forward in your organisation's approach to plastics. 

--- REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR HERE ---

Sarah George



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