Asda CEO Roger Burnley writes on our decision to be the first major supermarket to announce its annual plastic footprint
Earlier this year Asda became one of the first supermarkets to make a firm commitment to how we would reduce the amount of plastic in our business.
We did this because we recognise we have a responsibility to minimise our impact on the environment wherever we can, and our customers and colleagues told us they really care about this issue.
It’s important to me that when we say we’re going to do something, we’re clear about how we’re going to do it - so we not only outlined some immediate action we could take to reduce plastic in our operations, we also set ourselves a clear target to eliminate 10% of plastic from our own brand packaging by February 2019. You can read about the commitments we made in our Plastic Unwrapped manifesto.
I also committed to updating on our progress to achieving this reduction – and today I want to do that. But I also want to give further transparency by not only outlining how much plastic we’ve eliminated from our products, but also, how much we’ve used.
In 2017 Asda used 65,000 tonnes of plastic packaging in our own brand products.
Whilst there is no doubt this is a big number - and I want to be clear that we will do everything we can to eliminate avoidable plastic in our business - it’s important to remember that packaging is essential to ensuring our products reach our customers in great condition, and that it reduces waste in the store or at home.
In many cases, plastic is still the best material because the alternatives have other, broader environmental impacts that outweigh the positives. For example, I get loads of customers asking me why we don’t use paper bags for our produce – and at first, I wondered the same. Then I discovered the total carbon footprint of making a paper bag is greater than the impact of a plastic bag. And removing the packaging altogether would increase food waste massively.
We have targets to reduce our food waste and total environmental impact – as well as plastic – so we have to take all of these issues into account and make sure we’re making thoughtful and informed decisions about the best course of action.
Since we launched our manifesto, I’m proud to say that we’ve already identified where we can remove more than 3,100 tonnes of plastic from our packaging, through initiatives such as removing the plastic wrap from our swedes, switching our pizza bases from polystyrene to cardboard and even changing our refund shopping cards from plastic to cardboard.
These actions add up - in total, we’ve removed 287 million 500ml drinks bottles worth of plastic!
And where plastic is still currently the best material, we’ve committed to making it 100% recyclable by 2025, as well as increasing the amount of recycled content in our packaging.
We’re also working with packaging experts at Leeds Beckett University to find sustainable alternatives to key challenges, including plastic film and black plastic ready-meal trays. We recognise that we don’t have all the answers to the challenge, so they’re currently looking into bioplastics and whether they can be an alternative to some of the materials currently in use. And we pledge that anything we find we’ll share with industry.
We’ve only taken the first few steps of our journey, and we know we’ve still got more to do – but we’re committed to taking the right action.