Tesco’s plastics purge: what took so long and is it enough?

Campaigners welcome common-sense move but say companies need to be bolder

Tesco is to remove 67m pieces of plastic from its shelves from March by doing away with the plastic wraps commonplace on multibuy packs of tins. It sounds like a huge amount, but is still only a small proportion of the 1bn pieces of plastic that the chain has pledged to remove this year.

Campaigners hailed the move as “simple logic” and “common sense”, asking why retailers had not done this sooner. Part of the answer is that they were not sure consumers would continue to respond to multibuy offers if the tins were not physically bound together, but trials appear to have produced positive results.

Tesco’s move will apply only to tinned goods, leaving many other products still sheathed together in plastic multipacks, from vegetables and chocolate bars to drinks and bottles of shower gel.

The company has said the move will not result in greater need for other types of packaging such as cardboard, and nor is there any need to substitute other materials in the packaging. That is positive: recent work by the Green Alliance has highlighted the dangers of simple substitution.

Libby Peake, the head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said: “This contrasts with some of the other moves we’ve seen in the grocery sector where companies are sometimes replacing unnecessary single-use plastic items with equally unnecessary single-use items made from other materials.”

For instance, single-use thin plastic fruit bags are sometimes replaced with paper, which can have higher carbon impacts, and single-use plastic ready meal trays are being replaced with coated fibreboard, which is difficult to recycle. Single-use cutlery is being made from wood or compostable plastic, which the UK’s recycling infrastructure cannot handle.

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