How did the BIG Supermarket CEO's respond?
In June 2020, we wrote to all the main supermarkets, asking why their own branded snack packaging is non recyclable.
"I am part of a local recycling group whose members are committed to encouraging others to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging.
Our group, Verwoodians on Waste, collect and send to Teracycle many kilograms of recyclable wrappers such as crisp packets, savoury snacks, biscuits and confectionery but we are puzzled why this type of supermarket own branded food usually shows the “not yet recycled” symbol on their own packaging. See image below.
We appreciate that supermarkets are looking at ways to reduce their plastic usage; the logistical challenge of reducing plastic from the whole supply chain is probably daunting, but please could you educate us as to why most branded snack food items are not recyclable and what you are planning to do about improving this?
We would very much appreciate an update before we launch our campaign about the problem associated with supermarket branded products as they substantially contaminate our recycling bins."
These are the replies from the supermarkets who had the courtesy to respond!
Thank you for your recent email which has been received into our Executive Office. I have been asked to look into this matter and personally respond to you.
We’re committed to ensuring our packaging is as recyclable as it can be and are one of few retailers to invest in recycling facilities at many of our supermarkets.
We’re a member of the UK Plastics Pact and have committed to reaching a number of stretching, industry-wide targets by 2025. For example, we’ve committed to making 100% of our plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by this date.
So far, we have already reduced our own brand packaging by 35% since 2005 and nearly 40% of our packaging already uses recycled content. To add to this, 83% of our own packaging volume that’s sold is classed as widely recycled. Where we can’t offer a recyclable alternative for packaging, we’ll look to use as little of it as possible.
However, it’s important to remember that the purpose of packaging is to protect products through our supply chain, in our stores and in customers’ homes to ensure that products don’t get damaged or contaminated. That said, when it comes to food packaging, we’re always looking at ways to package products that help reduce food waste, whether that’s introducing re-sealable packs, or making them lighter, thinner and more recyclable.
Here are just some of the recent improvements and packaging innovations we’ve introduced:
Prosecco - we sold over 3.5m bottles last Christmas, and they’re made from 70% recycled materials
Cleaning products - last year we changed the spray bottles we use within our cleaning products, meaning that the whole bottle – including the trigger – could be recycled. We sell nearly 4 million of these bottles each year and these changes mean over 100 tonnes of additional plastic can now be easily recycled
Carrier bags - we offer recycling facilities in our stores not just for carrier bags, but for produce bags, some cereal bags and bread bags to name a few. We were also one of the first to trial this and are pleased to see the industry followed suit after our successful trial
Vacuum-packs - we’ve increased the amount of meat and fish that is vacuum-packed, reducing the air around the product. This method of packaging is far more efficient at keeping food fresh and even, in the case of beef steaks, can help the meat mature better
I hope the above clarifies your concerns.
Thank you so much for contacting us, Roger kindly passed me your mail to ensure you had a thorough response.
You are right, the impact on the planet of our over use of plastic has been catastrophic, and we absolutely need to act to stop this getting worse. We know that as a retailer we have a big responsibility in making sure we do the right thing for our customers, and for the communities in which we operate.
We have set ourselves some stretching targets to bring about change which we’re well on our way with. We will reduce our use of plastic across our own brand products by 15% by 2021, almost a third of our own-brand plastic packaging will come from recycled materials by the end of this year, and any plastic we do still have to use will be 100% recyclable by 2025.
Here are some examples of the progress we have made already:
- Reducing or removing plastic from more than 1000 product lines totalling over 8,000 tonnes of plastic removed, including going completely plastic-free on growing herbs, taking plastic covers off 50 million greetings cards and switching from plastic to cardboard trays on our Extra Special beefsteaks saving 50 tonnes of plastic.
- Removing 110 million plastic straws from circulation from both its cafes and in its party range.
- Switching our entire chilled ready meal range into recyclable trays – a supermarket first.
- Introducing reusable fresh produce bags, to encourage customers to move away from single use.
- Offering our customer a market leading £1 zero profit reusable coffee cup. Our cafes will offer a 25p discount if customers use their own cup with lid.
You’re quite right in your observation of some snack type packaging having the logo ‘not yet recycled’ on. This material you are referring to is called polypropylene (PP).
There are three types of film packaging – (a) polyethylene (PE) which stretches when you pull it apart – this is typically used for banana bags and bread bags amongst other things. This can be brought back to any of our stores to recycle alongside carrier bags (it’s the same material), and some of it actually goes back into making new bags for life. (b) are mixed material laminates. In some cases we need to use different types of plastic to create barrier layers to stop products going off or mouldy too quickly. We would typically use this for products such as long life naan breads, it can be much thicker and neither tears nor stretches as a general rule of thumb. Then we’re left with the material you are questioning (c) PP. PP can be identified by trying to tear it – if it tears cleanly, but doesn’t stretch (such as confectionary wrappers, crisp bags) it will probably be PP.
We can recycle PE because there is an end market for it (carrier bags). The UK doesn’t currently recycle multi layer as its too hard to separate. Here what we are trying to do is move away from any multilayer into mono materials wherever possible without affecting food waste. Nor does the UK recycle PP as there are no end markets for it, even therefore though it is able to be recycled, it is not. As part of the government 5 year Waste and Resources Strategy we are lobbying for more film types to be collected at curb side. This would be the longer term aspiration. In the medium term we are looking at how we could offer customer bring backs for it in our stores, and find an end market for it. We will be commencing trials on this by the end of the year.
I hope this answers your question, and once again thank you for contacting us about this issue.
Thank you for contacting us and apologies for the delay in our response.
We do appreciate your concern and this is something we do take seriously and are working on this with our suppliers.
We are aware that there is many improvements to be made so I have passed on your comments to the buying team.
Thank you for contacting our office.
You can find out all you need to know about our Business practices on https://www.tescoplc.com/sustainability/product/packaging/
On this website there is a whole host of interesting and informative articles which, I am sure, will be of help to you.
Thanks for taking the time to contact our Executive Director of Customer Service, Berangere Michel. She has asked me to reply on her behalf.
Please be assured that we take our commitment to the environment incredibly seriously, and we're on target to make all our own label packaging widely recyclable (using the widely recyled logo), reusable or home compostable by 2023.
We’ve made great progress already, with over 85% of own-brand packaging now meeting our recyclable, reusable or home compostable goal. But we know there’s more we need to do, and that’s why we've brought our target forward two years, to 2023.
There's lots more information on our website about what we're doing to reduce waste, which can be found here.
Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch. If there is anything further I can do please don't hesitate to let me know.