A raft of retailers and restaurant chains have announced plans to reduce or abolish their use of plastic packaging in the next few years, as the government vows to crack down on plastic waste.
As she launched the government’s environmental plan for the next 25 years last week, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to eliminate all of the UK’s avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
Supermarket chain Iceland then announced yesterday (16 January) that it will eliminate or drastically reduce plastic packaging for all of its own-label products by the end of 2023.
Iceland managing director Richard Walker said: “The world has woken up to the scourge of plastics. A truckload is entering our oceans every minute, causing untold damage to our marine environment and ultimately humanity – since we all depend on the oceans for our survival.
“The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change.”
In a statement released shortly after Iceland’s announcement, the British Plastics Federation said it was surprised by the move.
“Plastic packaging is used because it vastly reduces food waste and is resource efficient. If Iceland implement these measures, there is a risk that the weight of the packaging, carbon emissions, food waste and the amount of energy to make that packaging will increase.
“Growing and transporting food consumes a lot more energy than that used to make the packaging protecting it. Iceland’s proposals target products that will have absolutely no impact on reducing marine litter, which in the UK typically comes from items littered outside our homes. Its environmental footprint will increase, not decrease.”
Separately, McDonald’s yesterday announced that all of its packaging worldwide will come from recycled or renewable sources by 2025, while Wagamama, Morrisons and Waitrose have all vowed to stop using plastic drinking straws. The latter said it will also phase out black plastic trays used for meat, fish and produce.
Meanwhile, the EU has pledged to make all plastic packaging on the EU market recyclable by 2030. The European Commission said this marks the first ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics and is part of the transition towards a more circular economy.
Under the new strategy, the EU said it will make recycling profitable for business, curb plastic waste and stop littering at sea. It aims to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics and the intentional use of microplastics will also be restricted.
Mike Ridgway, director of the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance, said there needs to be some clarification from the government on whether the UK initiatives will be extended to other materials.
“They’re talking about single-use plastics, but what about single-use drinks containers? Everybody is talking about plastic but what about cans, or glass bottles of water – does this only start and finish with plastic or are there going to be restrictions in other areas? There needs to be some definitions.”
He added the implications on print of the various announcements made over the past few days could be far-reaching.
“There’s a lot of printing involved in all these containers – plastic bottles have labels on and there’s flexo printing on tin cans.
“Tetra Pak-type single-use carton containers could start to make inroads because the technology for recycling these is getting better all the time. Improved technology in recycling of laminate cartonboard packs will produce opportunities for in-line carton printers.”
The UK currently uses 3.7 million tonnes of plastic each year, according to statistics from plastics manufacturers association Plastics Europe.