Climate Action

Supermarkets put out 59 billion items of plastic packaging every year

A survey by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace UK has shown the extent of plastic use in UK supermarkets.

  • 15 November 2018
  • Rachel Cooper

A survey by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace UK has shown the extent of plastic use in UK supermarkets.

The survey draws on figures disclosed from these supermarkets for the first time. The figures reveal that ten major retailers, including Tesco, Waitrose, Lidl and Sainsbury’s, are placing over 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic on the market every year.

Seven of them are putting in circulation the equivalent of some 59 billion pieces of plastic packaging, over 2,000 items for every household in the country.

Despite their huge plastic footprint, many supermarkets do not have a sufficient policy setting out how they aim to reduce this plastic pollution.

The survey ranks retailers based on their commitments to reduce single-use plastic, eliminate non-recyclable plastic packaging, and engage with supply chains and transparent reporting.

The ranking shows Iceland at the top with an overall score of 5.7 out of 10 and Sainsbury's at the bottom at 3.2.

Iceland has an ambitious plan where they aim to phase out own-brand plastic packaging within the next five years. This is not the first time Iceland has shown their commitment to the environment, their new Christmas advert, banned for being too political, explicitly showed the devastating effects of palm oil deforestation.

On top of the plastic packaging already mentioned, the ten leading supermarkets are also producing 1.1 billion single-use bags, almost one billion bags for life and 1.2 billion plastic produce bags for fruit and vegetables.

Elena Polisano, Greenpeace UK Oceans Campaigner, said: “Plastic pollution is now a full-blown environmental crisis and our supermarkets are right at the heart of it. Much of the throwaway plastic packaging filling up our homes comes from supermarket shelves, but high-street giants are still not taking full responsibility for it.”

The public has voiced their opinion on the growing plastic pollution, 740,000 people have signed a Greenpeace petition urging supermarkets to increase efforts to reduce throwaway plastic.

Following this survey, Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency are calling on supermarkets to set year-on-year targets to reduce their single-use plastic footprint as well as ensuring that unnecessary and non-recyclable plastic packaging is eliminated by the end of 2019.

Find the full survey here.

Photograph: Steve Morgan/Greenpeace