Tesco touts removal of half a billion pieces of plastic packaging in 2021

One change has been the removal of plastic shrinkwrap from tin can multipacks

This brings the total number of plastic packaging pieces removed to date to 1.5 billion, after one billion pieces were removed during 2019 and 2020.

Back in August 2019, Tesco updated its plastics packaging strategy, outlining a framework based on the ‘4 Rs’ – removal, reduction, reuse and recycling. Soon after that, it began the process of assessing all of its plastic packaging formats and changing them in line with this hierarchy; removal should be the first port of call.

Plastic items that were removed by Tesco over the last 12 months include bags used to house online deliveries, which used to come as standard but are now an optional add-on. That change has mitigated the distribution of 200 million bags.

Other recent replacements include 42 million plastic forks from prepared salad bowls and rice bowls and 48 million plastic straws. Wooden and paper alternatives have been rolled out.

Elsewhere, Tesco has removed plastic trays from whole chickens, mitigating 14 million pieces of plastic in a 12-month period; swapped plastic for paper punnets on some of its best-selling tomato, plum and peach lines; and removed double lids from products including yoghurts, creams, butters and desserts.

These moves build on the removal of plastic on greetings cards, tinned multipacks and beer and cider multipacks.

All plastics removed to date has been “unnecessary and non-recyclable”, Tesco said in a statement, acknowledging that there are many millions more pieces of plastic packaging that should be phased out.

“While we are proud of this achievement, we know we have more to do and our work to tackle the impact of plastic waste will continue in 2022 and beyond,” said Tesco’s director of quality Sarah Bradbury.

4 Rs

As detailed above, Tesco is approaching the plastics waste issue from four angles.

On reuse, the supermarket launched products sold through TerraCycle’s Loop platform online in 2020 and in stores in September 2021. Loop provides customers with refillable options from major FMCG brands, such as Unilever and Danone. Customers pay a deposit that is returned to them when they bring packaging back to a store or get it collected by a courier. TerraCycle then assumes responsibility for cleaning the empty containers.

On recycling, Tesco last year rolled out recycling collection points for soft and flexible plastics to all UK stores. The scheme was launched in recognition of the fact that most local councils do not collect these plastics from homes, as they are challenging to recycle mechanically.

The news from Tesco comes shortly before world leaders are set to meet to draft an international treaty to end plastic pollution, similar to the Paris Agreement on the climate crisis. The treaty is high on the agenda for the UN’s Environment Assembly conference, which is taking place in Nairobi from 28 February to 2 March.

Sarah George

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