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UK supermarket plastic waste is rising

This report by the Environmental Investigation Agency and NGO Greenpeace studies how UK supermarkets have taken action on plastic packaging. It finds that overall plastic packaging used by UK supermarkets has risen by 2% between 2017 and 2018, mainly driven by sales of branded products. Waitrose and Morrisons have made the most progress in reducing plastic packaging.

Although all major UK supermarkets have set targets for reducing plastic packaging, these targets still allow for their overall plastic use to rise if their sales also rise.

Although the 5p tax on single-use plastic bags in England has been credited with reducing their sales by 83%, sales of heavier reusable plastic bags (“bags for life”) have increased so much that it suggests people are treating them as single-use items (read more on economic rebound effects here: Jevons paradox). The top ten supermarkets sold around 54 bags for life per UK household during 2019. Some supermarkets have reduced bag for life sales by charging higher prices for them.

Read the full report, Checking Out on Plastics II: Breakthroughs and backtracking from supermarkets, here (PDF link). See also the Foodsource resource How important is storage and packaging?

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