UK study suggests supermarket overuse of plastic packaging blighting planet

·2-min read

Major supermarket chains remain big users of plastic packaging that blights the environment, despite efforts to cut down, according to research published on Tuesday. The study focuses on the UK, but may be an indication for the overuse of plastics by supermarkets worldwide.

The ten supermarkets researched in the study produced almost 900,000 tonnes of plastic packaging in 2019, according to pressure groups Greenpeace UK and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

That was 1.6 percent less than in 2018.

"We had hoped to see a much sharper downwards trajectory as strategies and targets bear fruit," said EIA senior campaigner Christina Dixon in the agency's latest annual report based on supermarkets' own data.

"Instead, we are looking at a relatively static picture which represents a drop in the ocean of tackling plastic pollution. The sector urgently needs to pick up the pace of plastic reduction," the EIA insisted.

Plastic footprints

Many supermarkets are tackling the use of plastic packaging in their own-branded products -- but much remains to be done about packaging of products by third-party companies, the report noted.

"We would like to see supermarkets increasingly taking the fight to the big manufacturers and compelling them in turn to drive down their own plastic footprints," Dixon said.

The research also showed that more than 1.58 billion plastic shopping bags were sold in 2019, up by 4.5 percent from 2018, despite their intended multiple use.

Meanwhile, as a result of declining oil prices, decreased travel as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a growing movement aimed at boosting electric transportation, oil companies have been gearing up to cover their losses by massively increasing plastic production – oil being the core component of most plastics we use in daily life.

French ban on disposable plastic

But there is good news too. As of 1 January, in France disposable plastic plates, cups, straws and other products have been banned as part of legislative measures coming into effect with the New Year. The ban applies to some of the most common polluting products but does not concern plastic packing material.

The ban aims to put an end to some of the most recognisable single-use products for anyone familiar with summer picnics – not to mention the littered parks, trails and beaches that can result.

In 1999, the World Wildlife Fund found that each year 570,000 tonnes of plastic enters the Mediterranean - most if it coming from France - adding it’s the equivalent of dumping 33,800 plastic bottles into the sea every minute.

Twenty-four million tonnes of plastic waste is generated by Mediterranean countries every year, making the region the world’s fourth largest producer of plastic – and only 22 percent of that is recycled. Most is either incinerated or buried.