Waitrose and Aldi to use ocean-bound plastics for packaging on dozens of products

POP is manufactured using litter that is collected within 30 miles of a coastline. Image: Waitrose & Partners 

The supermarket will add ‘Prevented Ocean Plastics’ (POP), supplied by Bantam Materials and processed into packaging by Sharpak, to 13 lines across its ready meal range by the end of 2021. This will mitigate the use of more than 10 tonnes of virgin plastic.

At least 58 more products in the fruit, vegetables and health categories will then see their packaging changed after the ready meal roll out, bringing the amount of virgin plastic mitigated to more than 90 tonnes. Changes will affect products including some berries, grapes, soft fruits with stones, mangoes and papayas.

POP is manufactured using litter that is collected within 30 miles of a coastline which, according to local experts, would likely end up polluting marine habitats if not collected. The POP scheme prioritises materials sourced from coastal regions in Southeast Asia, identified as being at particular risk of ocean plastic pollution. It is estimated to have prevented 830 million bottles from entering the ocean in 2020.

Waitrose & Partners said in a statement that the move towards POP builds on an existing commitment to use a minimum of 30% recycled content in plastics packaging. The UK Government is notably imposing a new tax on businesses producing or using plastics packaging with less than 30% from April 2022. The retailer’s commitment has now been updated to commit it to using POP where possible.

“Our customers have told us they want to see more packaging made from recycled content on our shelves and with vast amounts of plastic already in the world,” John Lewis Partnership’s director of ethics and sustainability Marija Rompani said.

“We are committed to repurposing where we can and using more sustainable options. There is more to do but we hope that by using more POP in our packaging, we can be part of the solution to this hugely significant global issue.”

Aside from increasing recycled content, Waitrose & Partners is aiming to reduce single-use plastic by 20%, in absolute terms, by the end of 2021. It also has a 2025 target to halve single-use plastic packaging on its own-label lines. Both targets are set against a 2016 baseline.

In 2020, Waitrose & Partners used 6.1% less plastic across its own-brand and branded ranges than it did in 2017. Greenpeace believes this is the broadest and most rapid plastic reduction of any major UK supermarket.

Also to mark World Oceans Day, Aldi has outlined plans to incorporate POP across its entire range of own-label fishcakes and crispbakes. The move will affect some 76 tonnes of plastic each year for the supermarket. Aldi, like Waitrose & Partners, is sourcing the POP through Sharpak.  

The retailer has also reduced the size and weight of its fishcake packaging, to reduce the use of plastic – recycled or otherwise. 

Last year, Aldi pledged to halve the volume of plastic packaging it uses by 2025. It is also working to ensure that packaging for all own-label products can be composted, reused or recycled by 2022, and to meet the same requirements for third-party brands by 2025. 

Other retailers using POP in the UK include Lidl, for fish packaging, and Sainsbury’s, for fish and strawberry packaging. 

Project STOP

In related news, Borealis is marking World Oceans Day with a commitment to scale up Project STOP – an initiative it co-founded with Systemiq with the intention of preventing ocean plastic in the world’s most affected communities.

The aim of the expansion is to ensure that the project is capable of managing 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste by 2025. The project works by providing communities in Indonesia with the infrastructure and training needed to carry out paid jobs in plastic collection and recycling, as well as then selling the recyclate. It is targeting 1,000 full-time jobs by 2025.

Project STOP operates through partnerships with city governments. So far, such partnerships have been set up in Muncar, Pasuruan and Jembrana. The expansion will establish at least one new partnership. Indonesia’s government is notably striving to reduce ocean plastic pollution by 70% by 2025 and to deliver zero plastic pollution on land or sea by 2040.

Commenting on the expansion, Borealis’ chief executive Thomas Gangl said: “Plastics are key for prosperity and a modern life. We need to implement waste management solutions to avoid any negative impact to the environment from those valuable materials.

“As Project STOP continues to grow, we look forward to welcoming new strategic partners, whose skills and resources will be crucial to addressing this significant global challenge together.”

Project STOP first launched in 2018. Indonesia was chosen as more than two-thirds of the plastic waste it generates each year is not collected and disposed of safely, meaning that much of the material ends up polluting marine environments. As of April 2021, the initiative has collected more than 10,000 tonnes of waste and created 210 full-time roles in the waste management sector.

However, its support from the Alliance to End Plastic Waste had drawn some criticism. Shortly after the Alliance first launched in 2019, NGO Recycling Netwerk accused it of greenwashing, citing evidence that founder members including ExxonMobil, Shell and Saudi Aramco are expanding plastic production.

Then, several members of the Alliance were accused to be either delivering weak plastic pledges in-house, or setting ambitious targets but failing to meet them, by As You Sow. More recently, a Reuters investigation found that one of the Alliance’s central projects, Renew Oceans, was being closed due to Covid-19 complications.

Sarah George

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