To a New Plastic Revolution
It took a series of heart-wrenching images from the BBC’s Blue Planet II series to make people sit up and realise scientists hadn’t been over-elaborating when they claimed the planet was choking on plastic.
A sperm whale trying to eat a discarded plastic bucket; the remains of an albatross which died from ingesting a plastic bag in the Antarctic; fish dodging discarded plastic in the ocean… That, coupled with Sir David Attenborough’s hard-hitting message at the end of the episode– the fourth most-watched programme in British TV history –prompted a lot of finger-pointing; mostly in the direction of supermarkets and food producers.
But while a survey conducted a little over a year ago revealed that 88% of people interviewed had changed their habits, it is a sad indictment on society that it took footage of an albatross feeding pieces of plastic to her chicks on a TV programme to ram home a message scientists had been pushing for decades. Attenborough’s dire warning went from living room to boardroom in the blink of an eye. But the development and viability of alternative packaging doesn’t happen overnight and it’s only now – almost two years later – that initiatives and substitutes are becoming commonplace.
For example, the first crisp packet recycling scheme has been launched by Walkers, who asked the public to return empty packets for specialist recycling. More than 8,000 collection points have been set up and, when returned, the bags are cleaned, shredded and turned into plastic pellets to make products such as outdoor furniture.
Coca-Cola, committed to removing all unnecessary or hard-to-recycle plastic from its portfolio, revealed their first step by abandoning the use of shrink-wrap packaging for multi-buys in favour of a paperboard clipping arrangement which they hope to have rolled out across Europe by next year.
Last year’s major recycling breakthrough came with the outlawing of single-use containers, showcased by the ban on water bottles at the Glastonbury Festival.
However, the big five supermarkets, convenient whipping boys when it comes to over-use of plastic – particularly shrink-wrapping individual items to prolong shelf life – were ahead of the game.
WAITROSE had already implemented their‘ reuse and refill’ scheme in a trial at a store in Oxford, where customers were encouraged to fill their own containers with pasta from large jars, beer on tap, and pick ‘n’ mix frozen fruit. More than 90% of their customers gave it the thumbs up, and it has been extended to other stores.
Customers will soon be invited to bring in their own containers for meat, fish and cheese, while Waitrose aim to replace all single-use fruit and vegetable bags with a home compostable alternative… and ensure all their own-label cards, wraps, crackers, tags, flowers and plants are glitter-free before this Christmas.
TESCO are about to trial a new delivery scheme called Loop, a modern take on the milkman where products ordered online will be delivered in reusable containers to be collected, cleaned and refilled.
They are also targeting excessive packaging – half-filled crisp packets and cereal boxes – and those who don’t reach their standards won’t reach the shelves. They also want to scrap plastic bags with home deliveries; remove plastic cutlery from their own ‘on the go’ meals; and are using their flagship Extra store in Cambridge as a trial store to reduce waste.
MORRISONS have been at the forefront of getting customers to use reusable containers and have also trialled a reuse and refill scheme for pasta, seeds and frozen fruit. They boast they have the highest proportion of loose fruit and veg sales of any supermarket and are trialling reverse vending machines at selected stores to encourage customers to return plastic bottles. They also want to introduce a household cleaning ‘bottle for life’.
SAINSBURY’S, bottom in Greenpeace’s 2018 survey on plastic policies, have retaliated by removing lightweight loose produce bags, scrapping plastic trays from certain products, encouraging customers to bring in their own containers to meat and deli counters, replacing plastic film on vegetables and fruit with a recyclable alternative and swapping PVC, black plastic and polystyrene trays with an eco-friendly alternative.
They also aim to trial areas where customers can remove unwanted packaging and leave it for recycling, as well as piloting deposit/return schemes. And they are looking at options to replace plastic milk containers.
ASDA say that since early 2018 they have removed 6,500 tonnes of plastic –calculated at roughly 600 million empty plastic bottles – from their own-brand products and are trying a new coating on fresh produce which could double shelf life. They have removed wrapping from greetings cards and all unnecessary films, trays and windows; encouraging customers to bring their own reusable fruit and veg bags, and selling refillable cleaning products.
However, supermarkets acknowledge they can’t do it on their own. Shoppers need to change their own habits – particularly when bearing in mind, that despite the plastic bag tax, more than 1.75 billion were still sold by major retailers in the 12 months to April 2018 – to ensure footage of wildlife shrouded in discarded plastic doesn’t just become a chapter in TV history.