Supermarkets in UK come out top in tackling plastic across Europe

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Some retailers present double standards when it came to plastic packaging, a new report claimed
Some retailers present double standards when it came to plastic packaging, a new report claimed

Related tags: Supply chain

Supermarkets across Europe have been accused of being guilty of promoting false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis and perpetuating double standards, a new report has claimed.

Supermarkets in the UK came out top in the analysis on tackling plastics far ahead of most other countries in Europe

The role European supermarkets play in addressing plastic pollution was revealed in Under wraps? What Europe’s supermarkets aren’t telling us about plastic ​is the result of collaboration of over 20 NGOs and members of Break Free from Plastic movement. It concluded there was a near-complete lack of ambition across three categories: transparency and performance, commitments, and support for government policy.

A specially designed ranking developed by The Changing Markets Foundation found an overall average score across these categories achieved by retailers was only 13.1 out of 100.
Of 130 retailers contacted, only 39 retailers (30%) provided a written response to the coalition’s questionnaire, but many of these responses did not provide meaningful replies to the questions, it said. 

The good news is that supermarkets in the UK came out as the most engaged in tackling these issues. 

Transparency

On transparency and performance the report found the best-performing companies were Marks & Spencer and Aldi in the UK, achieving more than 60% of the available points, with Aldi in Ireland and Lidl in the UK achieving over 50%. This category includes indicators such as the reporting of tonnage and number of items packed using plastic among the retailers’ own brands (private labels) as well as the branded products of supplying food manufacturers

On commitments Aldi UK and Aldi Ireland were the only companies reaching more than 60% of the scores. On support for Government policy only five (Aldi Ireland, Aldi Denmark, Aldi UK, Lidl UK and BioCoop in France) were considered to provide strong support for an all-inclusive beverage Deposit Return Scheme. 

However, the report said it uncovered “double standards” for brands with international operations extending across Europe. For example, Lidl, a brand from the biggest European retail group Schwarz with 125.3bn EUR turnover in 2020, achieved 44.7% in the UK whilst only achieving between 13% and 23.7% in other countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic.Similarly, ALDI Süd was the top performer in the UK and Ireland, with 65.3% and 61% respectively, but it only achieved 11% in Austria.  Overall, retailers from the UK scored 39.6%. 

The report also highlighted that supermarket should be passing responsibility onto the food manufacturers. 

In the report it said: "Increasing the recycled content at least for store-owned brands is a commitment that is neither particularly difficult to adopt nor to progress, beyond an increase in per-unit packaging cost. Nor does it require retailers to make fundamental changes in the way they operate as the responsibility can be passed on to the product manufacturers for both branded and own-brand product lines."

Double standards

Nusa Urbancic, campaigns director at the Changing Markets Foundation, said: “Our report shows that even the best performers, such as Aldi and Lidl have double standards, when it comes to addressing the plastic crisis. They performed well in the UK and Ireland, but show abysmal results in Spain, Germany and other countries where they operate.

“Such differences cannot be explained through different national legislation and show that not a single retailer is responding to the plastic crisis with the urgency this situation demands. Instead of investing in systemic solutions, such as plastic reduction and reuse systems, retailers were found to be greenwashing and delaying legislation.”
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) ocean campaign leader, Christina Dixon said: “EIA and partners have been surveying UK retailers on their plastic use since 2018 and in that time we've seen a marked improvement in transparency, the quality of the data they provide and the targets they are setting themselves.

“That said, being European leaders when the bar is set so low is little cause for celebration. Ultimately, tangible reductions in plastic use and the pace towards a packaging-free future built around the concepts of reuse and refill is still far too slow to meet the scale of the crisis the planet is facing.”

Rosa Pritchard of ClientEarth said: “A number of the supermarkets included in this report are public companies and as such they have legal obligations to be transparent about their performance on plastics. But crucially, disclosure obligations are going to become much stricter for all companies in the coming years. That's why those at the bottom of the ranking need to start preparing now to be able to adapt to tomorrow's legal environment."

Related topics: Packaging & Labelling, Environment

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