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There’s no denying the truth our planet is drowning in plastic. In 2017, the ten biggest retailers alone produced 2 billion plastic bags and 900,000 tons of packaging. You’ll be even more surprised to know that one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute around the world. Unfortunately, half of the plastic waste accumulated is single-use plastic. This means it cannot be recycled.
Packaging being the biggest source of waste plastic, it makes sense to expect supermarkets to step up and play a vital role in cutting plastic. After all, the majority of single-use plastic designed for packaging goes into protecting food, drinks, and other delicate products. And by now we all know plastic is a terrible environmental hazard.
So, the question is are supermarkets playing a vital role in cutting plastic?
Supermarkets are the frontline warriors in combating plastic pollution by reducing plastic wastage. Concrete steps are being taken, which is evident from Wrap’s UK plastic pact. It is a pact made by UK’s largest supermarkets and several other businesses. The objective of this pact is to encourage and eliminate single-use plastic. Supermarkets signed up for the pact aim to shift their reliance on recyclable plastic and reduce overall levels of plastics on shelves.
Regular annual reports are presented to depict progress on plastic reduction.
The truth is we are making progress. But not as much as we should. Between 2018 to 2020, we have been able to drop the dependence on plastic packaging in supermarkets by only 10%. Looking at the staggering amount of plastic waste supermarkets are generating, these numbers are far too less and far too late.
However, all’s not lost. The damaging single-use plastic has been weeded out of the system rather impressively. There is a 46% reduction in this regard. One of the major contaminants in the recycling system, PVC has seen the most significant reduction. There’s been a whopping 80% reduction in the PVC levels since 2018. That’s certainly a piece of good news.
Besides the Wrap’s pact, there have been other studies as well, which present a not the ideal picture. As per the experts at Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency, retailers have sold more than 2 billion plastic bags.
The picture over three consecutive years 2017, 2018, and 2019 doesn’t seem to present promising results. The ten biggest supermarkets generated 896,853 tonnes of plastic packaging in the year 2019. The plastic waste generated in 2019 was down from what it was in 2018 but 1.2% up from 2017.
If you thought all those campaigns about plastic cutleries and straws might have generated jaw-dropping results, you’ll be in for a surprise. 143 million items were sold or given as plastic cutlery in 2017. While in 2019, this number rose to 195.5 million items. This huge rise in the use of plastic cutlery clearly indicates greater awareness is needed.
Supermarkets and retailers are going the innovative route to eliminate dependence on plastic, especially single-use plastic. For instance, Morrissons’ has decided to remove plastic bags from bananas. You might wonder what difference this little step would make? Well, turns out quite a lot!
By removing plastic bags from bananas, Morrisons’ will reduce close to 180 tons of plastic waste, which is about 45 million bags every year. Following Morrisons’ footsteps is Sainsbury, as they’ll be removing plastic film from its broccoli. This move will end up saving 49 tons of plastic every year. Sainsbury is serious about reducing plastic wastage to the extent they are even removing the extra lid from their cream pots. This will save 106 tons of plastic annually.
Nestle isn’t much behind. They are redesigning their packaging to make pouches narrower and to use significantly less packaging.
Certainly! By reducing dependence on plastic packaging, supermarkets would save tons of plastic that would otherwise get dumped in landfills or in oceans. Even just a 10% reduction is equivalent to a CO2 reduction of 335,000 tons. This is exactly like taking 150,000 cars off the road.
It’s good we have a start. It will be a long journey but we have to keep patience and persist for our planet.