“More than two thirds of the packaging in families’ weekly shops is not recyclable,” according to an article published in the Telegraph last month. The article also highlighted the fact that UK supermarkets are responsible for an estimated 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging every year.

The newspaper conducted a study which looked at four leading supermarkets, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, and Sainsbury’s, and found that 68% of the supermarkets’ packaging was not recyclable or was unclearly labelled.

For all four supermarkets, it was found that own brand packaging was less environmentally-friendly and less recyclable than some household brands. Additionally, some own brands had no labelling regarding recyclability.

How the supermarkets compared

The four supermarkets were assessed based on the percentage of packaging sold that:

  • was non-recyclable
  • did not contain any information about its correct disposal
  • featured confusing labelling regarding its disposal

The supermarkets were then ranked based on the percentage of their packaging that fell short of the criteria above. Waitrose performed the best by far environmentally, while Tesco was found to be the worst.

1. Waitrose – 60%

2. Sainsbury’s – 69%

3. Morrisons – 70%

4. Tesco – 73%

Separate research conducted by Engaged Tracking and published in The Grocer last year named Sainsbury’s as “the UK’s greenest supermarket”. It measured the amount of carbon emitted by each supermarket for every pound of revenue in 2016.

On that basis, the findings suggested that bottom placed Iceland produced comparative emissions that were 34% higher than its competitors’ average and twelve times that of Sainsbury’s. Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Morrisons (in order) completed the top five list.

There are of course further studies. A little inconclusive then, so how do the UK’s best-established supermarkets compare more generally?

Plastic packaging and bags

  Tesco Asda Sainsbury’s Morrisons Waitrose
Own brand packaging Claims that 83% of its own brand products are recyclable and it aiming for 100%.
It has promised that 100% of its packaging will be recyclable by 2025.

Has committed to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Has stated that 82% of its own brand packaging is recyclable, with the aim of making this 100%. Says that 85% of own brand goods have recyclable packaging and it will hit 100% by 2023.

Plastic bags It offers a bag-less home delivery service and has eliminated ‘single use’ carrier bags. Tesco has been trialling removing plastic from its fresh produce but still provides plastic bags.
It provides a bag-less home delivery service and in 2018 eliminated ‘single use’ carrier bags. It still provides plastic bags for fresh produce.

Its claim of being the first UK supermarket to remove all plastic bags for fresh produce is debatable as Morrison’s was trialling this months beforehand. It provides a bag-less home delivery service but still sells ‘single use’ carrier bags.
It has replaced plastic bags for fresh produce with paper bags, while also introducing a paper ‘bag for life’ option. It doesn’t yet offer a bag-less home delivery service but has eliminated ‘single use’ carrier bags.   It provides a bag-less home delivery service and earlier this year eliminated ‘single use’ carrier bags. Its fresh produce bags are either home compostable or can be used as a food waste caddy liner.

Carbon emissions It aims to become a carbon neutral business by 2050.

Says it has reduced its carbon footprint by 28.5% in the last 10 years but doesn’t have a future target. It is aiming to reduce its carbon emissions by 65% relative to 2006.

Claims that it has reduced its carbon footprint by 45% since 2005 but is yet to set a future target.

It has committed to having net zero carbon emissions in its operations by 2050.

The supermarkets’ wider changes include switching their vehicles to greener fuels, using and investing in renewable electricity and cutting the use of energy and water across their operations, removing unnecessary used by dates, shrinking food waste and reducing the amount of waste going into landfill.

You can find us on Facebook by searching for Plastic Free Home or at http://www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk.

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