Marcus Gover Wrap

’A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’, Marcus Gover Wrap’s CEO

The food and drink industry today launched its response to the plastics crisis, as nearly 50 businesses signed up to new targets to slash plastic use in store and across the supply chain.

The UK Plastics Pact is spearheaded by Wrap, which said it was a world-leading initiative which would see the UK become the first country to set sweeping targets across the industry to increase recycling, innovate on packaging and reduce the overall use of plastic.

Analysis: what does it involve, what will make it work, does it go far enough?

However, both Iceland and the Co-op, which have been two of the most outspoken retailers in their promises to crack down on plastic, have not signed up, saying the pledges did not go far enough.

Wrap described the launch as a “unique collaboration” of the plastics value chain, including businesses and NGOs, which would tackle the “scourge” of plastic waste. The businesses, including major food and drink brands, manufacturers and retailers as well as plastic processors, cover more than 80% of the plastic packaging on products sold through UK supermarkets.

The pact vows that by 2025 signatories will eliminate “problematic or unnecessary” single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative delivery models. It pledges that by that date 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable, 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted and 30% of plastic products will be recycled, compared with the current 6% figure across Europe.

Environment secretary Michael Gove said the move was a huge breakthrough. “Our ambition to eliminate avoidable plastic waste will only be realised if government, businesses and the public work together. Industry action can prevent excess plastic reaching our supermarket shelves in the first place,” he said. “I am delighted to see so many businesses sign up to this pact and I hope others will soon follow suit.”

Wrap CEO Marcus Gover added: “Together, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink and reshape the future of plastic so that we retain its value, and curtail the damage plastic waste wreaks on our planet.

“This requires a wholescale transformation of the plastics system and can only be achieved by bringing together all links in the chain under a shared commitment to act. That is what makes the UK Plastics Pact unique. It unites everybody, businesses and organisations, with a will to act on plastic pollution. We will never have a better time to act, and together we can.”

Gover told The Grocer this week Iceland had turned down the chance to join the pact despite repeated requests.

The retailer’s managing director, Richard Walker, announced in January it would scrap all plastic from its own branded products in the next five years.

“We subscribe to Wrap’s On-Pack Recycling Label scheme and are working with them on a range of matters including labelling, packaging and food waste reduction,” said Walker. “We are entirely supportive of their efforts to ensure that all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.

“However, we have taken the decision not to participate directly in their Plastic Pact because we have already taken a more far-reaching decision to eliminate plastic packaging from our own label range in its entirety by 2023. Given the scale of our ambition, we feel it is right to focus all Iceland’s resources on delivering this.”

A Co-op spokesman said: “We firmly support the aim to reduce the environmental impact of plastic packaging and have stretching targets to make all of packaging widely recyclable and use more recycled content.

“We were one of the first supermarkets to back the introduction of a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and are leading the way in redesigning products, such as making teabags plastic-free and using recycled material in our plastic bottles.”

This week Morrisons, which is one of the supermarkets signed up to the new pact, became the latest to reveal a new plastic reduction strategy.

It said it would take a number of steps including allowing customers to use their own containers for meat and fish from its meat and fish counters, trialling the effect of removing plastic packaging from fruit and vegetables in a number of stores and replacing black plastic trays used for fresh meat and fish by the end of 2019.

The supermarket is also fitting drinking water fountains into new stores to cut down on bottle use.

Chief executive David Potts told The Grocer: “Reducing the damage caused by plastic is one of the most challenging issues society can address. Because we make most of the fresh food we sell, we’re in an important position to make changes to our packaging. Joining Wrap’s Plastic Pact also offers a special opportunity to work collaboratively to take this opportunity.”