Sainsbury's has launched what it heralds as “the biggest ever initiative to eliminate plastic from Britain's high streets” - a scheme designed to reduce drastically its plastic packaging waste and encourage composting.

Some 500 product lines, from ready meals to organics, will now come in compostable packaging, which contains maize, sugar cane or starch instead of plastic. The move will save Sainsbury's 3,550 tonnes of plastic every year as 150 million plastic trays and bags disappear from shelves.

CEO Justin King said he hoped other retailers would join in. He added: “We're now confident that putting 500 types of our food in compostable packaging will significantly help to reduce the packaging that most threatens the environment.

“In tests, most of the compostable packaging will break down quicker than a banana skin, yet it takes many years for degradable packaging or carrier bags to do the same.”

The new packaging can naturally break down in a garden compost heap, meaning it does not need to go into the bin and then be sent to landfill. King urged the government to ensure every home in Britain had a compost bin.

From this week, half of Sainsbury's organic fruit and veg will come in the packaging, rising to 80% by January. All of Sainsbury's ready meals will use the packaging by next September.