Tesco removes one billion pieces of plastic packaging

In 2019, Tesco pledged to remove one billion pieces of plastic packaging from its UK business by the end of 2020. The UK's biggest supermarket has now revealed it has met the lofty target by working closely with suppliers and own-brand design teams.

Tesco removes one billion pieces of plastic packaging

Tesco has a long-standing partnership with WWF to help drive progress towards key sustainability targets

Tesco set the target as part of its broader plastics strategy, which centres around the ‘4 Rs’ – removal, reduction, reuse and recycling. The retailer is in the process of assessing all of its plastic packaging formats and changing them in line with this hierarchy.

Shortly after announcing the billion pieces of plastic goal, Tesco confirmed that it would remove plastic wrapping from its most popular tinned multipacks like chopped tomatoes and baked beans. It also worked with third-party brands including Heinz to remove the same packaging. In total, 67 million pieces of plastic wrapping have been removed through these initiatives.

A further 44 million pieces of plastic were tackled by removing plastic covers from greeting cards, in partnership with Hallmark, and some 122 million by phasing out secondary lids where possible. On the latter, Tesco’s own-brand baby wipes, salads and pots of cream now have just one lid.

Tesco was one of several UK retailers to reach its plastics packaging commitment for Christmas ranges in 2020, with competitors including Aldi, Morrisons, Iceland and Waitrose & Partners also cracking down on things like glitter and Christmas cracker toys. Its 2020 Christmas range contained 20 million fewer pieces of plastic than in 2019.

The business’s ability to meet its target against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic has been attributed to close collaboration with suppliers and with its environmental partner, WWF, as well as strong buy-in for plastics action at senior level. Tesco’s chief executive Dave Lewis notably made a public commitment to delist third-party brands with excessive plastic packaging in 2019.

“Our own-label and branded suppliers have had a lot to contend with in 2020 so removing a billion pieces of plastic is fantastic progress,” Tesco’s quality director Sarah Bradbury said. “Our work to remove, reduce, reuse and recycle will continue into 2021 – there is no place for unnecessary or non-recyclable packaging in our business.”

In the Loop

Further reductions in annual plastic use by Tesco are expected as its partnership with Terracycle’s Loop platform matures.

The platform works by enabling consumers to order branded groceries, health and beauty and cleaning products in reusable packaging online, through a major retailer. Users pay a refundable deposit on the packaging, which is refunded to them once the containers are returned via courier. TerraCycle then cleans the packaging ready for refill, or recycles it at the end of its life.

Following successful launches in markets including the US and France, Loop launched in the UK in July. It was due to launch in spring but lockdown restrictions caused delays. Brands signed on to Loop include Danone, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz.

Sarah George

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