Our customers are at the heart of everything we do, so when they feel strongly about an issue, I want them to be able to trust us to make a difference.
In February last year we listened to our customers, colleagues and the community about the ongoing issue with plastic and the damage it causes to our environment – and in our “Plastics Unwrapped” manifesto we made a pledge to use less and recycle more.
We challenged ourselves to cut own brand plastic packaging by 10% - 6,500 tonnes - in just 12 months. I’m proud to be able to tell our customers that we’ve achieved this milestone.
From ready meals to greetings cards, bedding to pizza bases, avocados to naked swedes, over the course of the last 12 months, we’ve continued to remove plastic from nearly 1000 of our products, whilst not compromising on the quality and choice our customers expect.
Making changes of this scale in a business of this size is never easy, but I was clear last year that we needed to take a root and branch review of what we package our products in. Our customers expected this of us and while we’ve reached a major milestone, this was only ever the beginning of the journey.
Outside of our packaging commitment, we’ve also removed 290 million single use plastic carrier bags from our stores, removed single use plastic in our head offices and have started to roll this out across the cafes in our stores too.
We know that plastic is unavoidable sometimes, and it’s important that we don’t lose sight of why products are packaged in the first place. It’s a fine balance between reducing what we use, but also making sure our products are delivered fresh to our customers and food waste is kept to a minimum. For example, when we removed plastic wrap from our swedes, we said we wouldn’t do that for cucumbers yet, because the increase in food waste as a result would be too high.
What we have done is embedded into our product designs a simple principle: that we’ll avoid the use of unnecessary plastic without impacting on food waste or shelf life. If there is no current viable alternative to plastic, we’ll use the most recyclable materials made from recycled content wherever possible. As I committed last year, all of our packaging will be fully recyclable by 2025.
We don’t currently have all the answers to this – in some areas, there is still no suitable and commercially viable alternative to plastic. As such, our partnership with the UK’s leading experts in packaging technology at the Leeds Beckett University Retail Institute will continue to grow, as we work together to find innovative ways to use less plastic. In the coming months, we hope to publish their first report into sustainable packaging alternatives.
Over the coming months and years, we’ll also continue to reduce plastic wherever we can, looking not just at the products on our shelves, but what we use to protect those products in the supply chain and display them on our shelves. We’ve also got some exciting trials planned for new customer initiatives over the coming year, which we will announce shortly.
This is just the first step for us, and we are honest as a business about the work that still needs to be done – by us and by the industry as a whole. I want our customers to have faith in us to continue to work hard to get avoidable plastic out of our stores, cafes and delivery services – while maintaining the same quality and freshness in our products.
In many cases packaging of some form is still essential to protect against waste, but avoiding unnecessary plastic will rightly be the starting point for all of our packaging designs in future.