You ain’t seen nothing yet

In the last 12 months numerous brands and supermarkets have pledged to cut plastic usage, our review of 2019 summarises who promised to do what.

By Michael Bennett

For the food and grocery industry 2019 will be remembered as the year of plastic.

Brands and supermarkets appeared to be in an arms race to see who could make the most ambitious plastic reduction pledge. All driven on by the seismic public reaction to the BBC’s Blue Planet II series.

According to a rather self-congratulatory article in The Guardian: “The explosion of action on marine plastics has been a success story on an unprecedented scale. Film producer Jo Ruxton spent years raising funds and doing research for her film A Plastic Ocean, described by David Attenborough as “one of the most important films of all time”. But it was not until last year’s Blue Planet II series, and the plastics campaign by this and other newspapers, that concerns around marine litter began to be more widely shared.”

Everyone from Waitrose to Coldplay have got in on the act. So, we thought this blog would be a good opportunity to do a month-by-month summary of all the main commitments making the headlines from January to December.

The serious point is that action by brands and retailers reflects a deep-felt concern about the environment that is affecting young and old alike. A Kantar Worldpanel survey of 5,000 UK shoppers showed 24.6% are extremely concerned about plastic food packaging, while 60% say they are doing their bit to reduce plastic waste generated.

Whilst an IGD research reveals that 40% of shoppers see the environmental impacts of their food purchases as either very important or extremely important in their decision-making.

Individually we feel there is little we can do to effect change, so as I’ve been arguing for a long time, it’s up to businesses to affect the sustainability change we need to see.

Businesses that best communicate what they’re doing for the good of all will be the ones that prosper. It’s safe to say that your green credentials have never meant so much to so many. And why they need to be effectively communicated so that customers know they’re making the right choices to help them do their bit for the planet.

Unfortunately, despite all the commitments listed below, 2019 saw supermarkets’ use of single-use plastic has risen to more than 900,000 tonnes a year. The Metro reported: seven out of the 10 major UK supermarkets increased their plastic footprint over the last year, with only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s achieving ‘marginal’ reductions, according to a report by Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Whilst 2019 will be remembered as the year things started to change it was only the start and action on a broader range of sustainability issues is bound to follow. In the words of legendary 1970’s Canadian rockers, Bachman Turner Overdrive ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.’ (Couldn’t miss the chance to include the link: enjoy!)

Who promised to do what in 2019 and by when

January

Waitrose cuts black plastic from product packaging
Supermarket chain Waitrose removes black plastic packaging from its own-brand fresh food range including fresh meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetable packaging.

Research to inform ‘full cost’ packaging system
Defra commissioned experts to provide advice on how an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system for packaging recycling could function.

Lush to open first plastic packaging-free store in UK
Beauty brand Lush opens its first ‘Naked’ store in the UK in Manchester, which will entirely avoid of any plastic packaging.

Coalition of major companies trial reusable packaging for online orders
Under the Loop scheme, durable containers will be delivered instead of single-use packaging.

KFC commits to sustainable packaging globally
The chain says it plans to make all plastic consumer packaging recoverable or reusable by 2025.

February

UK Government urged to establish “Plastic Packaging Taskforce”
The UK Government was urged to establish a “Plastic Packaging Taskforce” within the Environment Agency (EA) as part of recommendations calling for a bold national policy framework to reduce ocean plastic overseas and boost domestic infrastructure investment.

March

Penny Mordaunt doubles support for plastic recycling
The international development secretary doubles UK aid support for plastic recycling in poor nations. The announcement was made alongside Sir David Attenborough.

Aldi trials plastic packaging free vegetables in Scottish stores
Aldi has begins a six-week trial to stock plastic packaging free cabbages and cauliflowers, estimated to save half a tonne of plastic in Scotland.

Sandwich chain Pret rolls out water fountains across 250 stores in bid to reduce plastic bottle use
The sandwich chain Pret announces it has rolled out water fountains across 250 of its UK outlets in a bid to reduce plastic bottle use.

April

Tesco starts trial to recycle ‘unrecyclable’ plastic packaging
Tesco has starts a trial to collect previously unrecyclable plastics to be recycled in 10 of its stores in Swindon and Bristol.

Lickalix launches plastic-free, compostable packaging for iced lollies
Organic lolly company LICKALIX says it will be ‘the first iced treat company in the world to introduce plastic free, compostable packaging’ with the plastic free trust mark awarded by The Plastic Planet.

Waitrose works on packaging made of langoustine shells
Waitrose & Partners joins forces with Scottish biotec company CuanTec to work on a new film for food packaging made out of langoustine shells.

Plastic recycling: fund to help Wales ‘lead the way’
Wales sets a target to lead the way in recycling plastics as a £6.5m Welsh Government fund for businesses is launched to help go plastic-waste free.

May

Sainsbury’s to phase out black plastic by March 2020
Supermarket Sainsbury’s commits to remove all black plastic packaging from its own-brand products by March 2020, as part of a sweeping new set of plastic reduction pledges.

Unilever develops recyclable detectable black pigment packs
Unilever says it has developed a new detectable black pigment which will allow its black plastic packaging for TRESemmé and Lynx products to be successfully recycled.

EU finalises adoption of single-use plastic ban
Member states have two years to transpose the legislation, while optimists point to budding market opportunities.

Potato starch and seaweed
UK designer creates super sustainable polymer that leaves no trace.

June

Waitrose launches ‘packaging-free’ trial
Waitrose & Partners launches the first large-scale ‘packaging-free’ trial of its kind at one of its stores.

Cup, cup and away: Starbucks and Gatwick Airport launch reusable coffee cup trial
Working in partnership with UK environmental charity Hubbub, Starbucks launches the world’s first airport-based reusable coffee cup scheme.

Michael Gove responds to packaging sector about consultation recommendations
Gove responds to the signatories wrote the letter in mid-May urging the him to listen to their suggestions about how the UK can become a “world leader in the sustainable use of resources”.

MPs debate call for ban on non-recyclable packaging
The public has “woken up” and is ready to do more to cut plastic pollution, MPs are told.

July

Bye-bye six packs: Corona invents interlocking cans for plastic-free convenience
Mexican beer brand Corona creates a prototype solution to the 17 million tons of plastic generated by beverage packaging each year:  a screwable, stackable can.

David Attenborough says crusade against plastic pollution is like the final days before abolition of slavery
Sir David Attenborough compares changing attitudes over plastic to the abolition of slavery, claiming 20 years of warnings about the issue had gone unheard.

Morrisons becomes first British supermarket to ban plastic packaging from fruit and veg
Morrisons says it is to become the first British supermarket to ban plastic packaging from its fruits and vegetables.

UK gov announces strong support for plastics tax, EPR and DRS as much-anticipated consultation results are released
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announces the results of its Resources and Waste Strategy for England consultations, including the proposed introduction of a plastics tax, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).

August

Aldi raises the stakes with cardboard packaging plan
Aldi rollouts cardboard packaging for steak products across hundreds of its UK stores, as part of a trial it estimates could avoid the use of more than 240 tonnes of plastic each year.

Tesco packaging overhaul promises to eliminate “hard to recycle” material
The supermarket “reserves the right” not to list excessive or inappropriate packaging.

September

Cut all single-use packaging, not just plastic, say MPs
A new report says clearer labelling, better recycling and reuse and refill schemes should all be prioritised.

Morrisons launches new packaging scheme to help customers recycle more
Morrisons introduces a new front-of-pack recycling scheme to help customers recycle more packaging.

Girls and young women call for UK to reduce single-use plastic
Hundreds of thousands of girls join Girlguiding campaign to tackle plastic pollution.

Burger King ditches free toys and will ‘melt’ old ones
Burger King UK announces it will no longer give away plastic toys with children’s meals, amid pressure to reduce plastic waste.

October

Italy proposes price cuts on plastic-free food and toiletries
Dispenser systems and incentives to give up cars are planned under measures to halt environmental damage.

Waitrose to stop selling plastic toys in Christmas crackers from 2020
John Lewis Partnership also plans to reduce amount of glitter in products sold.

November

More than 16,000 cans and bottles found in four days on UK beaches
Charity says findings underline need for deposit return scheme for plastic and glass bottles to replace plastic.

Coldplay pause touring until they can offer ‘environmentally beneficial’ concerts
British group delay tour to support new album Everyday Life as they work towards developing carbon-neutral concerts.

Plastic bag tax could be increased to 70p to drive down waste
Greenpeace has said that the cost of plastic bags should go up to 70p to help reduce waste from supermarkets.

Supermarkets’ single-use plastic waste rises to nearly 1,000,000 tonnes a year

Unfortunately, the year ends on a disappointing note as the unintended consequences of the plastic bag tax are revealed.

December

Everything stops for Christmas.

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