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Sainsburys pledges to halve plastic packaging

By 13/09/2019News

Retailer Sainsbury’s today (13 September) announced what it described as “an ambitious new commitment to reduce plastic packaging by 50% by 2025”.

This new target includes all branded food packaging, Sainsbury’s brand food packaging and packaging across all of Sainsbury’s operations. The move could see milk sold in refillable glass containers or in pouches for use in a jug but would hit recycling plants as the light grey HDPE milk bottle is easily collected and recycled.

The retailer said that currently uses almost 120,000 tonnes of plastic packaging per year and believes “a transformational leap in thinking is required” to move the industry beyond existing efforts at reducing packaging. Sainsbury’s reduced plastic packaging by 1% in 2018.

Sainsbury’s aims to cut the use of plastics by half by 2025

To meet this goal, Sainsbury’s claimed it is to launch a programme to “accelerate change”, which will include switching to alternative materials, using lighter-weight plastics and introducing refillable packaging at scale. Following rigorous analysis of its plastic footprint, the key areas of focus for the biggest impact are: plastic milk bottles, packaging for fruit and vegetables, fizzy drinks, water and fruit juices.

Milk bottles

It commented that some of these alternatives will require customers to change their behaviour – for example, plastic milk bottles are currently one of largest sources of plastic packaging. Sainsbury’s is reviewing alternative options including the introduction of refillable bottles, introducing returnable milk bottles or offering a reusable jug with milk in a lightweight plastic pouch. The company trialled the pouch several years ago but the scheme was stopped.


Sainsbury’s said that it recognises it cannot achieve this commitment on its own. It is aiming to pioneer new ways to collaborate with food manufacturers, packaging suppliers, raw material scientists and other retailers, alongside the waste and recycling industry.

The retailer is trialling its own reverse-vending scheme

A summit was held today as part of its work to get the plastics reduction process moving and it involved the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This brings together branded suppliers, researchers and government stakeholders to identify potential breakthrough innovation projects.

Sainsbury’s is also looking to open source ideas. It now has an area on its website for “customers, colleagues, manufacturers, entrepreneurs and other interested parties to submit ideas to help reduce plastic packaging”:

Mike Coupe, Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s, said: “We have set ourselves a bold ambition because we understand that we urgently need to reduce our impact on the planet and to help drive change across our industry. Reducing plastic and packaging is not easy. Packaging plays a vital role in keeping our food safe and fresh and minimising food waste. We must therefore find alternatives to plastic that protect the quality of our food while minimising our impact on the environment.”

Mr Coupe added: “We can’t do this on our own and we will be asking our suppliers and our customers to work with us to help us make this important change.”

Theresa Villiers

And, Theresa Villiers, Environment Secretary, also commented on the Sainsbury’s initiative. She said: ““I commend the leadership shown by Sainsbury’s and their efforts to introduce new industry-wide standards and reporting, ensuring that our environment is protected for future generations.
“This is a brilliant example of the integral role business has to play in cutting plastic waste, empowering consumers to make more sustainable choices.”

Sainsbury’s plan includes:

• Lightweight loose produce bags will be removed by September 2019 (489 tonnes)
• Plastic trays are being removed from asparagus and sweetcorn (144 tonnes); cream pots (114 tonnes); tomatoes (102 tonnes); carrots (38 tonnes); and herb pots (18 tonnes)
• Plastic has already been removed from cauliflowers, organic bananas, easy peeler citrus fruit, brassicas and tomatoes
• Microbeads were removed from our Own Brand products in 2013

• Fresh food black plastic trays will be replaced with recyclable alternatives (6000 tonnes) by end of this year
• PVC and polystyrene trays will be replaced with recyclable alternatives (1213 tonnes)
• Plastic film on fruit and vegetables will be replaced with a recyclable alternative (2518 tonnes) by end 2020
• All our Own Brand flushable wipes are plastic free and compliant with industry guidelines which are recognised across the UK and Europe. We’re also working to meet the new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard in the future while ensuring we do not compromise the quality of the product.
• Plastic cutlery was replaced with wooden cutlery in Food to Go, saving 38 tonnes of plastic

• Fresh water stands will be available for customers to refill their own water bottles in 326 supermarket cafe’s across the country
• Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers to meat and deli counters

• A ‘pre-cycle’ area will be trialled in stores for customers to remove unwanted packaging and leave it for recycling
• Customers will be able to use recycling facilities at further 125 stores (currently 275).
• Collaboration with others on research to develop new packaging and recycling technologies
• Deposit Return Schemes are being piloted so customers can return recyclable packaging simply and easily

Below: a graphic from Sainsbury’s showing polymer types of items it sells.

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Source: Plastic