richard walker iceland plastic

Iceland’s MD Richard Walker was at the forefront of the commitments to ditch plastic and palm oil

Iceland made two bold, industry-shaking commitments in 2018. The first was to get rid of plastic packaging from own label by the end of 2023, earning the frozen food retailer headlines in the Sun, Mirror, Telegraph, Guardian, BBC, ITV and more.

Iceland aimed to “demonstrate the potential for the entire supermarket retail sector to go plastic-free as far as possible,” it said at the time.

The second was to go palm oil-free on own label by the end of 2018 – a move that generated even more publicity. Iceland’s 2018 Christmas ad, an animation borrowed from Greenpeace about a ‘rang-tan’ displaced by deforestation, gained over 70 million views online after being blocked from TV by regulators as political content.

Once again, Iceland said it wanted to set an example “to the food industry that it is possible to reduce the demand for palm oil whilst seeking solutions that do not destroy the world’s rainforest”.

Fast-forward to 2022 and Iceland has backtracked on both pledges. In March it said the war in Ukraine had made sunflower oil so scarce it either had to use palm oil again or have bare freezers. Certified sustainable palm oil would return to some own-label products as a “last resort and as a strictly temporary measure”.

Then, in July, it said it wouldn’t be able to get rid of plastic by the end of 2023 either, thanks to setbacks in the pandemic and a lack of viable alternative materials. The supermarket maintains it is working towards the same goal, and it will simply take longer to get there, but it has not set a new deadline.

In the meantime, Iceland is heading in the wrong direction. It actually put more own-label plastic packaging on the UK market in 2021 than it did in 2019, according to its latest plastic footprint report