Iceland managing director Richard Walker calls on government to make plastic packaging tonnage disclosure mandatory in order to tackle plastic pollution crisis
Iceland has for the first time unveiled the full scale of plastic packaging used for both products on its supermarket shelves and throughout its business, as it urged other retailers and companies to be more transparent about their impact on the UK’s growing plastic pollution crisis.
In a move widely praised by green campaign groups, the grocery chain yesterday published a report on its own plastic footprint complete with data on the amount of plastic packaging used throughout its UK operations, in a bid to spur greater transparency across the wider retail sector on the issue.
The figures – descibed by Iceland’s own managing director Richard Walker as “horrific” – show the firm’s full plastic packaging footprint amounted to more than 32,000 tonnes in 2019, which included 1.8bn items of packaging used in stores and for deliveries, as well as almost 93 million plastic bottles.
It came as rival German supermarket Lidl also yesterday published similar data for its UK operations for the third year running, detailing the plastic packaging for branded and own-label products used in its stores and deliveries. Last year, Lidl’s total plastic packaging footprint stood at just over 60,000 tonnes, the figures show.
Walker said it was “time to be honest” as “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”, and called on other firms to commit to publishing full figures on their total plastic packaging use, rather than releasing partial figures that he argued served to obscure the full extent of the problem. He also urged the government to make plastic packaging disclosure a legal requirement for businesses, in addition to enforcing targets to reduce plastic use.
It follows research earlier this year that warned many of the strategies supermarkets are employing to pursue their plastic reduction goals are “disjointed and potentially counterproductive”, while highlighting the key role for governments to take a leadership role in developing a coordinated and sustainable solution to the plastics crisis.
“For several years now, businesses have been using incomplete information to represent the scale of their plastic packaging, their commitments to change, and the progress being made,” Walker said. “Our message is clear. Without transparency, and government enforced reduction targets, we will not be able to judge whether business actions are delivering real progress. Increased recycling is important but won’t solve the issue on its own. Regulated commitments to reduce plastic pollution are also vital if we are to deliver positive progress in the face of the sheer scale of plastic making its way into the environment.”
Today we’ve disclosed our full plastic footprint – it’s horrific. Every business should now follow & government should make it law. As we say in business: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. It’s time to be honest. #OnePlasticFootprint
My Blog 👉🏻 https://t.co/n1J8ameXuv
— Richard Walker (@icelandrichard) September 16, 2020
Walker’s call was backed by several campaign groups including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, A Plastic Planet and Surfers Against Sewage.
“There’s nothing like transparency about a problem to force companies to tackle it, and that’s true of throwaway plastic too,” said Greenpeace UK plastic campaigner Nina Schrank. “Iceland has made a bold and brave move by publishing their plastic data, and we urge other retailers to follow suit. If UK supermarkets are underreporting their packaging, ocean plastic pollution could be far worse than we thought and wildlife could be even more at risk.”
Separately, Rebecca Burgess – CEO of non-profit plastic waste charity City to Sea – said Iceland’s admission that it used 1.8bn items of primary plastic in 2019 alone demonstrated that “supermarkets must remove of all pointless packaging and adopt at scale reuse systems”.
“If the grocery industry uses plastic at the same rate as Iceland have been, then the industry would have been responsible for 72 billion pieces of primary plastic,” she said. “This is both deeply alarming and a clear signal that we need to rethink supermarkets dependency on plastic.”
Amid growing consumer concern over the issue, Iceland is one of many retailers which has sought to accelerate efforts to tackle plastic pollution in recent years. In 2018, it committed to eliminate all plastic packaging on its own label products by the end of 2023, and since then claims to have removed almost 3,800 tonnes of the 13,000 tonnes it was using at that time, marking a 29 per cent reduction.
Numerous other retail giants, including Asda, Tesco and Waitrose, have also stepped up their efforts to reduce their use of plastic. And, also yesterday, Lidl announced a new 2025 target to reduce the use of plastic packaging in its own-label products by 40 per cent, as well as cutting the total amount of own-label packaging – of all material types – by 25 per cent.
Lidl claims to have reduced the use of plastic in its own-label packaging by 17 per cent since 2017, adding that it is now on track to meet its 20 per cent target two years ahead of schedule. Other pledges announced yesterday include doubling the number of refillable and reusable packaging solutions available in stores by 2021, as well as boosting recyclable and recycled content in both own-label and branded packaging.
Ryan McDonnell, chief commercial officer at Lidl GB, said welcomed the firm’s progress but insisted “we know there is more to do”. “This is why we have significantly expanded our targets to help accelerate the impact we are having on cutting plastics, and we’re proud to be working collaboratively with our suppliers to find solutions,” he said.