Greenpeace shames Sainsbury’s and Tesco for failing to cut down on plastic waste

Britain’s biggest supermarkets are failing to cut back on wasteful and unnecessary plastic packaging, according to Greenpeace.

The environmental organisation says two of the Big Four supermarkets have not done enough to remove plastic from their aisles.

Sainsbury’s has pledged to reduce plastic by just 77 tonnes since last January through removing plastic packaging from gift cards.

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Britain's biggest supermarkets are failing to cut back on wasteful and unnecessary plastic packaging, according to Greenpeace (file photo)

Britain’s biggest supermarkets are failing to cut back on wasteful and unnecessary plastic packaging, according to Greenpeace (file photo)

Tesco reports having removed just a million pieces of plastic from its stores, by phasing plastic straws out from its cafes.

Both supermarkets have made other pledges to tackle the plastic menace, although they cannot say how many tonnes or pieces of plastic these will remove.

But compared to other Big Four supermarkets Asda and Morrisons they have drawn up fewer strategies to tackle plastic and failed to tackle plastic cutlery in stores or bring in paper bags for produce.

Elena Polisano, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: ‘As the two biggest supermarkets, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have the biggest plastic footprint and should be taking responsibility for that.

‘But they are lagging behind rather than leading the way, and neither have set much-needed plastic reduction targets.

‘Tesco at least has some measures in the pipeline, including a trial of loose fruit and veg, and a forthcoming trial of refillable packaging.

 ‘And it’s pledged to phase out some problem plastics this year.

‘But Sainsbury’s is the worst in class, and must urgently reduce plastic – starting with eliminating unnecessary and unrecyclable plastic by 2020.’

The Daily Mail has campaigned against throwaway plastic, prompting supermarkets to take extra action beyond the mandatory five pence plastic bag tax.

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Measures announced in the last year include Iceland’s trial of a plastic-free fruit and veg aisle, Morrisons removing plastic sleeves from cucumbers and asparagus, Waitrose getting rid of all disposable coffee cups and Aldi replacing hard-to-recycle black plastic trays with clear plastics.

Sainsbury’s has pledged to use food cartons with 85 per cent less plastic packaging, among other promises, but has announced only five measures to reduce plastic compared with Asda’s 12.

Three of those, including removing plastic cups and cutlery from its offices but not its stores, have been made public only in the last month.

The 77 tonnes of plastic it has pledged to save compare with the 6,500 tonnes claimed to have been removed by Asda and 3,766 tonnes at Morrisons.

The environmental organisation says two of the Big Four supermarkets have not done enough to remove plastic from their aisles (file photo)

The environmental organisation says two of the Big Four supermarkets have not done enough to remove plastic from their aisles (file photo)

Tesco is soon to trial an initiative to use refillable containers for online shopping, but has made only five plastic-cutting pledges and reported reducing individual plastic items by one million.

Greenpeace, which looked at public statements made by Britain’s 10 biggest supermarkets to measure their planned and achieved plastic reductions, found Marks & Spencer had cut plastic items by 527.5 million items. The average reduction was 266.3 million for plastics used in store, not including clothing.

Environmental campaigners say the supermarkets are focusing too much on recycling plastic and not enough on reducing its use. 

Each year the 10 largest supermarkets place more than 800,000 tonnes of single-use plastic packaging on the market.

More than 922,000 people have signed Greenpeace’s petition calling for supermarkets to ditch throwaway plastic packaging.

A Tesco spokesman said: ‘We know our customers are passionate about this and we are committed to reducing the amount of packaging in our stores.

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‘Since May 2018, we have removed 2,000 tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastics and replaced them with other materials or more easily recyclable plastics.

‘Over 80 per cent of the packaging on all our own-brand Tesco products is recyclable and we are working hard to make sure any remaining plastic has a clear purpose and is recyclable.’

A Sainsbury’s spokesman added: ‘We met Greenpeace last week and are disappointed that they have not checked their facts before launching this campaign. Greenpeace says we have pledged to reduce plastic by 77 tonnes and, in fact, we will reduce plastic by well over 2,400 tonnes in the next 12 months alone.

‘For Sainsbury’s branded products, 67 per cent of the plastic that we use is widely recyclable and 100 per cent will be widely recyclable packaging by 2025.’

A Greenpeace spokesman said: ‘We are bemused at the claim from Sainsbury’s that we did not check our facts with them, as we checked these figures with them in email correspondence this week.

‘The figure Sainsbury’s has provided to journalists has never been announced, and mostly relates to clothing. We made clear this was outside the scope of this analysis because not all supermarkets offer clothing ranges, and it’s only fair to compare like for like.’   


Microplastics are plastic particles measuring less than five millimetres (0.2 inches).

They have hit the headlines over recent years, as improper disposal has resulted in tonnes of waste making its way into the ocean.

Each year, tonnes of plastic waste fails to get recycled and dealt with correctly, which can mean they end up in marine ecosystems. 

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Although it’s unclear exactly how they end up in the water, microplastics may enter through simple everyday wear and tear of clothing and carpets.

Tumble dryers may also be a source, particularly if they have a vent to the open air. 

Plastics don’t break down for thousands of years and it is estimated that there are already millions of items of plastic waste in the oceans. This number is expected to rise. 

Studies have also revealed 700,000 plastic fibres could be released into the atmosphere with every washing machine cycle.

Current water systems are unable to effectively filter out all microplastic contamination, due to the varying size of particles.  

The amount of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans will outweigh fish by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, a report released in 2016 revealed.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s tap water is contaminated with plastic, research published in September 2017 revealed.

The US has the highest contamination rate at 93 per cent, followed by Lebanon and India, experts from the University of Minnesota found.

France, Germany and the UK have the lowest levels, however, they still come in at 72 per cent.

Overall, 83 per cent of water samples from dozens of nations around the world contain microplastics.

Scientists warn microplastics are so small they could penetrate organs. 

Bottled water may not be a safer alternative, as scientists have found contaminated samples.

Creatures of all shapes and sizes have been found to have consumed the plastics, whether directly or indirectly.

Previous research has also revealed microplastics absorb toxic chemicals, which are then released in the gut of animals.



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