Plastic pledges: what commitments have retailers made to fight the problem?

With Environment Secretary Michael Gove announcing more plans to target single-use plastic items, Food Spark finds out how supermarkets are preparing for the future.

19 April 2018

The UK Government’s sights are firmly set on plastics, and the pressure is only mounting.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced that plastic stirrers (and cotton buds) are to be banned, alongside straws, as part of a plan to target single-use plastics. The prohibition could come into force as early as next year.

A consultation on how to outlaw these items will begin this year.

Currently, the UK uses 44 billion stirrers and 42 billion straws. While Gove says environmentally friendly alternatives have already been developed for these products, industry will be given time to manufacture appropriate substitutes.

There’s certainly no shortage of options, including biodegradable alternatives such as paper straws and wooden drink stirrers.

Many foodservice operators have already stopped using plastic straws, with McDonald’s and JD Wetherspoon recently announcing plans to phase them out. Pret is also looking at ways of booting out plastic bottles.

It comes on the heels of Gove’s plans to impose a deposit fee on plastic bottles. The Treasury will also look at levies on other single-use plastic items, such as cups, takeaway containers and packaging – which means supermarkets are in the firing line.

Retailers have already set themselves public targets for cutting back on non-recyclable rubbish; targets that will undoubtedly affect suppliers – Tesco, for instance, has explicitly stated that it requires design innovation from those it works with going forward.

Food Spark reached out to the supermarkets for further comment on their plans for confronting the plastic challenge.


  • Eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own-brand products by the end of 2023
  • Supports the adoption of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for bottles and is already talking to the Scottish and Welsh Governments about DRS plans
  • Currently continues to sell 5p plastic carrier bags, but is considering other non-plastic alternatives to these and will shortly be introducing paper bags in a pilot study to test consumer reaction
  • Does not think that the current DEFRA and WRAP approach to recycling goes far enough with their UK Plastics Pact


  • By 2020, the amount of plastic packaging will be reduced by 20%
  • 100% of packaging will be widely recyclable, reusable, refillable or renewable by 2025
  • 50% of packaging will be made from recycled materials by 2025 for its own-brand packaging
  • Lidl will also become one of the founding members of WRAP’s new UK Plastic Pact
  • The retailer will remove 5p reusable plastic bags from stores
  • A DRS is one initiative Lidl is also considering


  • Wants to source all its pulp-based packaging from certified forests by 2020
  • Plastic packaging to be banished from own-brand products by 2022, including polystyrene bases currently used for pizzas to be replaced by cardboard if trials prove successful
  • 5p plastic carrier bags will be scrapped from stores by the end of 2018, with customers offered bags for life or 9p reusable bags instead
  • Has pledged its “support in principle” for a national DRS for plastic bottles
  • Aldi will also become one of the founding members of WRAP’s new UK Plastic Pact


  • By 2025, Tesco wants all its packaging to be recyclable or compostable
  • Its goal is that all paper and board used will be 100% sustainable by 2025
  • Plans to halve packaging weight by 2025 compared to 2007 levels
  • The supermarket now requires design innovation from their suppliers, such as greater use of compostable and biodegradable materials
  • Would welcome the creation of an integrated national collection of packaging and investment in innovative recycling facilities
  • It also supports developing a cost-effective DRS and are currently working with a number of partners to scope a project to explore how this can operate in practice and at scale


  • Plans to make its own-label packaging widely recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2025
  • It will no longer offer takeaway disposable cups from autumn 2018
  • From the end of 2018, the supermarket will stop using black packaging altogether for its meat, fish, fruit and veg. It has committed to stop using black plastic packaging for all own-label goods by the end of 2019
  • From September 2018, it will no longer sell single-use plastic straws and from the end of April 2018 all its cafes will start switching from plastic to paper straws
  • Customers are welcome to bring in their own reusable containers for use at the counters, providing the containers are clean, of a suitable size and have a secure lid
  • For loose fruit and vegetables, it will continue to look into the option of offering paper bags instead of plastic
  • Currently still discussing WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact


  • Wants all of its own-brand packaging to be recyclable by 2025
  • Pledged to reduce the amount of plastic in its own-brand packaging by 10% by the end of 2018
  • Announced plans in February to change the polystyrene bases in pizzas to cardboard
  • Aims to use more single-polymer material in packaging to make it easier to recycle and switch from glued pads to loose in meat, fish and poultry trays to ensure as much of the packaging as possible can be recycled
  • Launching a ‘zero profit’ reusable coffee cup to help customers reduce their reliance on single-use cups, while it works to remove these from its shops and cafes by the end of 2019
  • Phasing out single-use carrier bags from stores by the end of the 2018
  • Setting up the Plastic Unwrapped Ideas Hub, where it will set out top plastic challenges and invite ideas to solve them from industry and individuals. If a scalable, workable solution is found, it will provide an innovation award of £10,000

Marks & Spencer

  • By 2022, all M&S product packaging that could end up with customers will be widely recycled
  • By 2022, the supermarket will also have assessed the feasibility of making all M&S plastic packaging from one polymer group, which will help maximise the use of recycled content
  • By 2025, the 50 key raw materials used for M&S products will come from sources verified as respecting the integrity of ecosystems, the welfare of animals and the wellbeing of people and communities. This will cover over 80% of M&S raw material usage by volume
  • Also looking at using plastics made from plant-based oils


  • A target to reach a 50% reduction in plastic for its own-brand packaging by 2020
  • Offers recycling facilities in stores not just for carrier bags, but for some cereal bags and bread bags


  • Co-Op aims for 80% of its products to have "easily recyclable" packaging by 2020
  • Plans to switch all of its own-brand water to 50% recycled plastic bottle


  • Started phasing out single-use carrier bags in March
  • Recycles its carrier bags and uses “returnable bins” for fish products to reduce the use of poly boxes
  • Getting rid of plastic drinking straws that are sold separate to drinks and replacing with paper straws this year
  • Starting to ditch plastic stem cotton buds for paper alternatives

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