Tesco boss: We’ll delist brands that use excessive plastic packaging

Tesco has already set goals to remove non-recyclable plastics from its own-brand lines by the end of 2019

Writing in a column for The Guardian today (22 August), Lewis stated that Tesco’s contracts with third-party brands would be updated in 2020 to include a clause whereby the retailer is able to “reserve the right not to list” lines housed in non-recyclable plastics.

“We have all looked at the settled contents of a cereal packet and puzzled over the comparative size of the bag and box,” Lewis wrote. “Or opened a bag of crisps and wondered why the packaging is twice the size of the contents.”

Through the column, Lewis revealed that Tesco has this month been bringing partner suppliers in for workshops, in a bid to create “truly efficient” packaging designs using plastic-free materials.

While describing the process that this move has kick-started as a “huge amount of effort”, Lewis stated that he was positive that Tesco could apply its learnings from cutting food waste to its plastics reduction approach.

Tackling food waste has formed a key part of Tesco’s sustainability strategy since 2009, when it made a commitment to stop sending food products to landfill. In 2013, it became the first UK supermarket to publicly publish its food waste data, and this year recorded a 17% year-on-year drop in wastage by weight.

On plastics, Tesco is a signatory of WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact, and has therefore committed to achieving recycling and composting rates of 70% or more for packaging, and including 30% recycled content across all packaging, by 2025.

However, it has set a more ambitious target for the removal of non-recyclable plastics than the Pact’s 2025 goal, instead setting the deadline for that ambition for the end of 2019 across all own-brand lines.

Nonetheless, Lewis believes that more can be done in two fields: firstly, through retailers minimising the amount of plastics packaging they offer in the first instance, and secondly, through collaboration for a more closed-loop end-of-life economy for used plastics.

“We can’t overlook the fact that for too long, packaging on consumer goods has been excessive,” Lewis wrote.

“But to close the loop on packaging so it can be used, re-used, collected and recycled continuously, more needs to be done. We need a standardised national collection and a truly complete and national recycling infrastructure…The need for action has never been more pressing.”

Call to action

Tesco has been lobbying for a standardised national recycling collection system since January 2018, in a move it claims will shift stagnating recycling rates for plastics.

At present, some local councils collect as many as 15 different types of plastics, while two (Rotherham and Tonbridge and Malling) offer no kerbside plastics recycling service at all.

The Government has shown a willingness to address this challenge through its new Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS). Published in draft format late last year, the 146-page policy framework proposes that household recycling collections should be uniform in each of the UK’s devolved powers.

While the RWS was widely welcomed across the UK’s green economy, some voiced concerns that the measures it proposes aren’t likely to be implemented rapidly enough. Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh MP, for example, pointed out that a nationwide deposit return scheme for drinks packaging would likely not be rolled out until 2023, with changes to kerbside recycling systems set to take even more time.

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Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Andy Clarke says:

    I hope there is a mistake in the Summary – I hope they intend to delist suppliers who use excessive OR non-recyclable packaging. There should be no need for a "double failure" as implied by "and"!

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