Retailers blasted over ‘deceitful’ plastic phase-out claims

A new report has warned that European supermarkets and retailers are promoting false solutions to the plastics crisis that is failing to improve recyclability or reduce the amount of plastic in use.

Retailers blasted over ‘deceitful’ plastic phase-out claims

The “Under wraps? What Europe’s supermarkets aren’t telling us about plastic” report has been released today (24 May) by a group of 20 influential NGOs, including the Changing Markets Foundation, ClientEarth, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

The report warns that retailers across various European countries are failing to tackle the plastics pollution problem by cutting back on usage, with questions cast as to the transparency and commitments of certain retail giants.

The report finds that many supermarkets are promoting false solutions that fail to improve recyclability or cut back on plastics use. The most notable of these is, according to the report, flexible plastic take-back schemes – where consumers return certain types of packaging to the store to be recycled. The report claims that much of this packaging waste in Europe was being exported to countries that can’t adequately handle these materials.

There have already been numerous high-profile cases of branded plastics being exported, burnt or dumped in nations such as China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria.

The new report finds that of the 130 companies that the NGOs requested information from, 82% did not provide the most basic information about their plastic footprint. On the ‘plastics reusability’ aspect, no company reached more than 40% of the maximum points and the average was only 5.1%.

The report also warns that the plastic industry looks set to place even more plastic onto the market, under a business as usual trajectory.

Businesses were ranked on their plastics performance across key metrics including commitments and transparency. Still, even though ambition has increased and improvements have been made, NGOs are calling for more coherent approaches to plastics phase-outs.

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Ocean Campaign Leader, Christina Dixon said: “EIA and partners have been surveying UK retailers on their plastic use since 2018 and in that time we’ve seen a marked improvement in transparency, the quality of the data they provide and the targets they are setting themselves.

“That said, being European leaders when the bar is set so low is little cause for celebration. Ultimately, tangible reductions in plastic use and the pace towards a packaging-free future built around the concepts of reuse and refill is still far too slow to meet the scale of the crisis the planet is facing.”

Double standards

The report ranks supermarkets based on responses to questions on performance, transparency, commitments and support for government policy. The overall average score of these retailers was just 13.1 out of 100. Only two companies exceeded 60%, forming the top of the table. These companies are Aldi in the UK with 65.3%, and Aldi in Ireland with 61%.

The Changing Markets Foundation found that combining the best responses to each question created a fictional “best-in-class” retailer with the total score of 82.7%.

Of the 130 retailers contacted by NGOs, only 30% provided written responses to a questionnaire, but many of these replies did not provide sufficient information.

The report found that even those that did reply had discrepancies based on where they were located. The report names Lidl, a brand owned by Schwarz, as one of the better performing retailers at 44.7% in the UK, but scored as allow as 13% in other countries.

Similarly, ALDI Süd was the top performer in the UK and Ireland, with 65.3% and 61% respectively, but it only achieved 11% in Austria, where it operates under the name Hofer, and 25.7% in Germany. In total, the UK was one of the highest-scoring nations for retail brands, but still only managed a collective score of 39.6%.

The Changing Markets Foundation’s campaigns director Nusa Urbancic said: “Our report shows that even the best performers, such as ALDI and LIDL have double standards, when it comes to addressing the plastic crisis. They performed well in the UK and Ireland, but show abysmal results in Spain, Germany and other countries where they operate.

“Such differences cannot be explained through different national legislation and show that not a single retailer is responding to the plastic crisis with the urgency this situation demands. Instead of investing in systemic solutions, such as plastic reduction and reuse systems, retailers were found to be greenwashing and delaying legislation.”

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie