We first wrote to Sir David Attenborough at the end of 2018, following his landmark words at the United Nations, to thank him for inspiring us and many others, and to tell him that we had established a small online community called Plastic Free Home in a small attempt to ‘do our bit’.

As you may have read elsewhere, this October we were very surprised to receive a second letter from Sir David Attenborough. It was in response to one we had written thanking him, nearly two years on, and updating him on our progress. “I am delighted that your plastic free movement has been such a success,” he wrote.

Another of Sir David’s recent sentences rings far louder in our ears however. “Don’t waste anything,” he said, pained, during a recent BBC Breakfast interview. This is very much a mindset we do our best to live by as a family at home and the ethos of Plastic Free Home. His words really resonated with us; it really is that simple. So, why is such a straightforward message so difficult for people to understand?

Enter Sainsbury’s.

Like many, particularly during the course of this year, we have relied on click and collect or home delivery services from our chosen supermarket. In this case, often Sainsbury’s.

We have been routinely annoyed of late, to find a bundle of collectable Lego cards hidden within our shopping. Of course, we didn’t order these and there is no way to opt out of receiving them. And returning them right away is not always easy if you don’t know they are there until half of your food has already found its way to the fridge. We’ve unwillingly acquired 15 packets of cards in just the last fortnight.

So, we wrote to Sainsbury’s to ask how this fitted with their aims to reduce packaging and waste and generally do better.

They responded: “We appreciate your feedback. At Sainsbury’s, we continue to look at ways to reduce the impact our business has on the environment. We can confirm that all the Lego cards, including the packaging, and albums can be recycled. Please let me know if you have any other questions.”

We weren’t surprised, but we were angry.

Firstly, clearly a stock response and a brief one at that. We weren’t told what the cards and their packaging were made of. Was the paper/card FSC (sustainably) sourced? How can the packaging be recycled and what is it made of? Not good.

So we responded again. Also directing the email to Lego’s head of sustainability. And we threw a little maths for good measure…

Let’s assume that Sainsbury’s has approximately five million customers nationwide and they give five packs each to just half of those customers every week. That’s 12.5 million packs A WEEK! The true figure may be higher. On that basis, that would be HALF A BILLION packs in a year. Imagine the carbon footprint of producing, distributing and perhaps recycling all of those cards (likely thousands of tonnes of CO2 by the way). Or how many trees will (thousands again…) have been felled in the process?

The cards are there for two cynical reasons alone. Pester power and lazy brand marketing. These cards will be discarded and forgotten about as quickly as they are gained. How can Sainsbury’s (and indeed Lego) not see that this is nothing but wasteful?

In a well-established sustainability model, ‘refuse’, ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’ all come before ‘recycle’. Recycling should be the last resort; it’s not a get out of jail free card that allows for endless and mindful overconsumption.

At Plastic Free Home, one of our favourite sayings is “vote with your feet”. And that’s what we’ll be doing here. We’re showing Sainsbury’s a card, a red one. Au revoir.

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

Join the Conversation


  1. Hey. Great article. However I just want to point out a likely misunderstanding of the magnitude of waste.
    At the 2 Sainsbury’s stores I sometimes visit (a Local and a Superstore) they always ask if I’m collecting before giving me the cards. If I say yes, they give me just the number of packs I’m due, being 1 for every £10 spent. As I don’t shop regularly at Sainsbury’s I don’t always say yes as there’s no point me taking 3 packs a year, and if I say no, they don’t give them to me.
    I know this is the policy so believe your experience is probably not the usual scenario and therefore the maths you’ve done is likely hugely overestimating the number of packs given out.

    Whilst I agree with the sentiment here I think it’s worth ensuring you represent the argument in a more accurate way to get your point across more effectively and with more credibility.


    1. Thank you. We based things on the significant rise in online deliveries, especially as a result of the pandemic. In this case, the cards are generally not requested or easily rejected as they are hidden within a delivery.


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