March has been a busy month for UK retailers. Climate change and citizen power are driving projects, campaigns and trials aimed at lessening the impact of the food industry on our environment. ⁣⁣

At the Telegraph Plastic Sustainability Summit, the message was that plastic food packaging does serve a purpose, helping protect food from damage and helping it last longer, which are both important for reducing food waste. However, experts believe that UK supermarkets are producing 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic every year (Greenpeace UK).⁣⁣

The challenge for consumers is that it isn’t clear or easy to see what is and isn’t recyclable, and that unnecessary plastic needs to be eradicated as soon as possible. There are also hidden layers of plastic that need to be addressed, such as what the products are delivered to stores in, plastic filling station gloves, and the blue plastic used by most food factories across the country.

⁣⁣Food waste is another huge, huge challenge - Olio app states that food waste at the retail store level is less than 2% of total food waste (though supermarket practices are directly responsible for much food waste elsewhere in the supply chain).⁣⁣

Here is a quick roundup of the latest news:

Marks and Spencer

Marks & Spencer is working in partnership with Dow Chemical Company and environmental charity Wastebuster to collect hard to recycle plastics like cling film, black plastics, crisp packets, sauce sachets and cosmetics packaging (M&S Tolworth, Cribbs Causeway, Westfield Stratford, Waterside, Loughton, Bluewater, Fosse Park and Peterborough, nationwide by the end of 2019). When the instore bins are full, their contents will be sent to a specialist, UK-based recycling facility where they will be cleaned and shredded. The shredded plastics will then be melted down and recycled into playground equipment, fence posts and outdoor furniture by Dow.

Waitrose 

Committed to stop black plastic packaging for all own label goods by the end of 2019, (which is unidentifiable by recyclers), the store also no longer sells single use plastic straws and has removed all takeaway disposable coffee cups from its shops. Waitrose is one of a few brands looking at innovative CupClub, a cup sharing initiative.

Credit: Waitrose.com

Waitrose are also investing in a project with Queen’s University Belfast to see how non-edible food waste (like egg shells) could be used to create new forms of packaging to reduce reliance on packaging. They have also created a virtual aisle for B Corp certified products, in an online trial that bands together brands and products for sale on its website that have met the high social and environmental standards required to be certified as a B Corp. The selection includes products from Ella’s Kitchen and Innocent Drinks.

Co-op

Co-op launched an e-bike home delivery service (E-Cargo Bikes) in London last week. The Midcounties Co-operative has launched an in-store campaign to encourage customers to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they buy, called ‘1Change’. It asks customers to make one change to their current shopping habits by making plastic-conscious purchasing decisions. Bingley Co-op recently supported a ‘mass unwrap’ event at its Five Rise Shopping Centre, organised by Plastic-Free Bingley.

Aldi

Aldi has taken the lead on removing glitter from its own ranges, starting with Halloween 2019. The chain is also set to directly donate surplus food from 24 of its UK stores to local charities after partnering with product redistribution platform Neighbourly.

Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s among others has backed new tech which will use innovative blast freezers in the fight against food waste. Blast freeze technology enables surplus stock to be refrozen rapidly making it ready for distribution.  

Asda

Plans to launch a zero profit re-usable coffee cup and replace 2.4m plastic drinking straws in Asda cafes with paper alternatives. The clothing brand George has just launched cushions and throws made from recycled plastic bottles, and clothes made from recycled polyester clothing.

Iceland

Launched a packaging-free fruit and vegetables trial in The Food Warehouse in North Liverpool, using compostable punnets, paper bags and cellulose nets. Last year, Iceland also introduced a plastic bottle recycling scheme in four of its stores across the UK whereby consumers were rewarded with a 10p voucher for every deposit.

Lidl

Credit: Good Housekeeping

Credit: Good Housekeeping

£1.50 Too Good To Waste boxes – which contain slightly damaged fruit and vegetables launched last week in 122 stores following a trial, preventing 250 tonnes of food going to waste.  Since moving to donate surplus food directly from its stores to local community causes last February, Lidl has provided more than 58,000 meals to those in need in Manchester.

Morrisons 

90 million polystyrene meat trays, fish trays and pizza bases have been removed at Morrions, and they are trialling a new paper bag version aimed at reducing plastic use across the company. They have also teamed up with ChargePoint Services on a plan to install rapid electric vehicle chargers across its supermarkets nationwide, enabling customers to power up their EVs within around 20 minutes.

Carrefour  

Focussed on proving its supply chain practises to customers, the chain is using block chain technology, recently announcing it is working with IBM to allow consumers to track milk provenance.

Tesco

A new training programme Tesco Community Cookery School with Jamie Oliver will teach over 1,000 community cooks on how best to use surplus food donations to help stop good food going to waste. Community Food Connection enables 7,000 charities and community groups to pick up free food from Tesco each week, but some of those groups take a break during school holidays, which means Tesco can offer free surplus food to even more organisations over Easter. Spread the word. Tesco are also trialling the removal of Tesco plastic-wrapped fruits and vegetables in Tesco Extra stores in Watford and Swindon.

Sources: Edie.net, I News, IGD Retail Analyst, The Grocer, The Independent, BBC The Food Programme Podcast, Essential Retail, FoodSpark, All retailer websites