Sainsbury’s to cut plastic packaging waste

Supermarket giant Sainsbury's plans to dramatically increase the number of products wrapped in compostable packaging - a move it claims could save 3,500 tonnes of plastic from going to landfill every year.

The change will see 150 million plastic trays and bags disappear annually and replaced with what the supermarket chain believes is the friendliest form of packaging for the environment.

As well as providing an obvious environmental benefit, a spokesperson for Sainsbury’s told edie the switch was responding to customer demand.

She said the supermarket had first trialled home-compostable packaging on a limited range of products five years ago and now was in a position to expand that range from 30 to 500, including all ready meals and most organic products.

The main obstacle for the chain to overcome has been sourcing the materials for the packaging in big enough quantities to ensure a dependable supply.

“The challenge is the scarcity of compostable packaging – it’s expensive to do this and it is hard to come by,” the spokesperson told edie.

Where compostable packaging is not available or practical, the supermarket will try to use recyclable packaging.

The other hurdle to overcome if Sainsbury’s change in packaging policy is to have full impact is persuading the public that home composting should be second nature.

According to WRAP, one in three homes now have their own home composting bin – which obviously means that up to two thirds of Sainsbury’s customers will still be binning their eco-friendly packaging.

“WRAP and the Government are pushing people quite hard to get a home composting bin,” said the Sainsbury’s spokesperson.

“If people know more of their food is coming in this sort of packaging it’s an incentive to get a home compost bin. It’s about creating a wheel of opportunity.”

Rather than using traditional oil-based plastics, the packaging used will be based on starch from maize or sugar-cane which, according to Sainsbury’s will rot down faster than a banana skin when dumped on a compost heap.

Making a public announcement on the switch, Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King said: “Our customers tell us that food packaging is extremely important to them and can determine what they buy, so our packaging team has been looking at ways to address these concerns.

“We have already reduced excessive packaging on our Easter eggs, as well as making more things recyclable. We’re now confident that putting 500 types of our food, from ready meals to organics, in compostable packaging will significantly help to reduce the packaging that most threatens the environment. It also creates an opportunity for customers to dispose of their own waste at home.

“In some cases, for example on our organic tomatoes, absolutely everything can be composted at home – from the film and tray that keeps the tomatoes from being damaged, to the tomato vines. In tests, most of the compostable packaging will break down quicker than a banana skin, yet it takes many years for degradable packaging or carrier bags to do the same.

“We urge the Government to ensure that every home in Britain has a compost bin. We also support other retailers in putting more of their food in this packaging so that it becomes the norm. It would be positive to think that in the near future, customers can halve their household waste by composting, as well as contributing to tackling major environmental issues.”

Sam Bond

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