European retailers urged to cut corners on reducing plastic pollution

The first-ever ranking of commitments by major European supermarkets to reduce their use and waste of plastic reveals a lack of real action.

Retail giants across Europe are being called out for what a coalition of NGOs sees as promoting false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis and perpetuating double standards, according to a new report.

The very first analysis the role that European supermarkets play in the fight against plastic pollution, In an envelope? What European supermarkets don’t tell us about plastic is the result of the collaboration of more than 20 influential NGOs from all over Europe. The ranking established by the Foundation of Changing Markets — the lead organization within the
Free yourself from plastic
movement – revealed an almost total lack of consistency and follow through in three categories of questions on the topics of Transparency and performance,
Commitmentsand Government policy support.

Analysis for the In envelope report was produced by the Changing Markets Foundation with input from NGOs, including CustomerEarth, green peace and
Friends of the Earth.

Of 130 retailers contacted, only 39 (30%) provided a written response to the coalition’s questionnaire; but many of these responses did not provide meaningful answers to the questions. A closer analysis of 74 retailers in 13 countries revealed a worrying lack of action to tackle the plastic crisis. The overall average score obtained by retailers was only 13.1 out of 100.

Even within successful supermarkets in the UK, the report revealed double standards for brands with international operations stretching across Europe. For example, Lidl, owned by Europe’s largest retail group,
Schwarz – with 125.3 billion euros in turnover
in 2020, reached 44.7% in the UK, compared to only between 13% and 23.7% in countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic.

In the same way, ALDI South — the best performer in the UK and Irelandwith 65.3% and 61%, respectively – only reached 11% in Austria
(where it operates as Hofer) and 25.7% in Germany. Aldi is the second largest European retailer, with a turnover of 106.3 billion euros.

Overall, UK retailers and France obtained respectively 39.6% and 23.3%. No other country has achieved a total average of more than 20%. The average score obtained by merchants in Spainthe Czech Republic and Estonia was less than 10%.

Nusa Urbancicdirector of campaigns at the Changing Markets Foundation, laments the inconsistency and lack of pursuit of systemic solutions.

“Our report shows that even the best performers, such as ALDI and LIDL, have double standards when it comes to dealing with the plastics crisis – they have performed well in the UK and Ireland, but show catastrophic results in Spain, Germany and other countries where they operate”, she says. “Such differences cannot be explained by different national legislations and show that no retailer is responding to the crisis of the plastic with the urgency that this situation requires.”

WRAP recently reported
that over a third of plastic packaging in the UK is not recyclable and only 5% is reusable. Instead of investing in systemic solutions, In envelope
reveals that supermarkets are promoting bogus solutions, such as in-store soft plastic take-back programs. In addition, plastic packaging waste marketed as “recycled” was often exported to countries with far fewer resources
to deal with the problem, and previous investigations have revealed that the exported waste was thrown into nature.

Christine DixonOcean Campaign Manager at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: “The EIA and its partners have been surveying UK retailers about their use of plastic since 2018; and during that time we have seen a marked improvement in transparency, the quality of the data they provide and the goals they set. That said, being European leaders when the bar is set so low is no cause for celebration. Ultimately, tangible reductions in plastic use and the pace towards a packaging-free future built around the concepts of reuse and refill are still far too slow to meet the scale of the crisis the planet is facing. confronted.

glimmers of hope

Increasingly legitimate solutions to plastic waste are emerging from retailers around the world, but standardization and scale will likely remain a challenge for the foreseeable future; packaging reuse models such as Loop are now available at online and physical retailers around the world, but they only offer a solution to a fraction of the global retail market.

And while Lidl may be inconsistent from country to country in terms of delivering on its plastic reduction promises, Lidl Switzerland is working with Swiss materials scientists to develop a protective cellulose coating for fruit and vegetables that, if used on a large scale, could significantly reduce retail packaging and food waste.

Here in the WEsome retail giants have joined forces to prevent various sources of plastic from becoming waste: in the fall of 2021, the Consortium to reinvent the retail bag — including
SVC, Target and walmart — launched a series of first-of-its-kind multi-retailer pilot projects to deliver sustainable alternatives to the single-use plastic bag and accelerate their scaling potential. Target and Walmart are also members of the American Pact on Plastics — a cross-industry coalition of businesses and NGOs actively working to achieve a circular economy for plastics in the United States by 2025; Walmart is a member of the Recycling partnershipit is Circular Pathway Industry Council, which last fall launched a transparent national framework to standardize the recyclability of packaging; and Target also recently launched its
Zero
collection — which includes products and packaging designed to be refillable, reusable or compostable; made from recycled content; or made from materials that reduce the use of plastic.

Bryce K. Locke