CCE recycling

Tesco, along with Coca-Cola, has nailed its colours to the mast of a deposit return scheme (DRS)

The most solid breakthrough in the war against avoidable plastic pollution got lost today amid all the debris of vague promises from Theresa May about a 25-year plan.

The jury is out over whether May’s government will last another 25 weeks, let alone be able to come up with a credible strategy that will last all the way until 2042.

But meanwhile it emerged that Tesco is actually getting on and doing something about it.

In a new position statement on packaging, Tesco for the first time nailed its colours to the mast of a deposit return scheme (DRS). It revealed it was already launching trials with suppliers about how such a controversial scheme could work.

The Grocer understands CEO Dave Lewis and chief product officer Jason Tarry have held meetings with a raft of suppliers to explore whether retailers like Tesco have the capacity to create a truly national system of bottle recycling, to work alongside other measures.

“We do support developing a cost-effective DRS and are currently working with a number of partners to scope a project to explore how this can operate in practice and at scale,” says the new position statement. It was rightly welcomed as a huge breakthrough for the DRS cause by Greenpeace.

I suggested in November that other retailers would soon break ranks and swing behind DRS, following what had been entrenched opposition from the likes of the BRC and ACS.

That was after Iceland and the Co-op came out in favour of the scheme to tackle what the former called the “ticking time bomb for humanity”.

There was no such emotive language from Tesco today. But its conversion to the cause is a landmark given its sheer scale. In significance it can be compared to Coca-Cola’s u-turn last year to back DRS in the UK.

There are also signs of growing industry consensus that some form of DRS is inevitable – but that it will only work as part of a much wider reform of UK waste policy.

Not least this has to involve, as Tesco says in its document, a major shakeup of recovery/recycling facilities

The retailer calls for “government leadership” to tackle what it calls the “inconsistencies in infrastructure and recycling activities between councils that make consumer education and closed loop systems impossible to build”.

Tesco also calls, like Coca-Cola before it, for a major overhaul of the discredited Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN) system, which oversees recycling incentives.

What Tesco may find more challenging is to talk about its role in the massive rise in plastic pollution caused by the trend for food and drink on the go, which even industry insiders once steadfastly opposed to DRS privately admit now cannot be ignored.

Some, including the Labour Party, feared today’s lack of mention of DRS in May’s 25-year plan suggested the government might have gone cold on the idea ­– despite Defra secretary Michael Gove coming on board a few months ago.

But there is no need to panic. The Grocer understands the reason DRS was omitted was because the government/industry collaboration drawing up its proposals for DRS trials have not yet finalised their initial proposals.

Whether it is the government, or Tesco, that gets there first, some form of DRS is on its way. What else may follow in the war on plastic in the next 25 years, who can say?