The research by Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency ranked the 10 major UK supermarkets on a range of factors including reduction in their plastic footprint, how much recycled material they use, transparency on plastic use and their commitment to improving.
According to the report, the 10 major supermarkets put 896,853 tonnes of plastic packaging into the market in 2019, which is a drop of 1.6 per cent from the previous year but still a 1.2 per cent increase compared with 2017.
Iceland ranked bottom of the table, despite reducing plastics in its own-brand products by 29 per cent. This was blamed on an increase in the supermarket's use of plastics from branded products.
When contacted by The Independent, Iceland’s head of packaging, quality and food safety Stuart Lendrum said that the supermarket is a “strong supporter” of Greenpeace’s work to stop ocean plastic pollution. However, he claimed the report is “is knowingly based on flawed analysis that significantly misrepresents Iceland’s position and achievements”.
Lendrum said the research favoured supermarkets with larger stores catering to a more affluent customer.
He added: "The report is framed around a few key themes – notably on the virtues of refill schemes, loose produce and pressure put on branded suppliers to reduce their own plastic consumption – that are always going to be challenging for a smaller discount specialist like Iceland. This means that it undervalues the important activity that is going on to reduce plastic in the mass market.
"Iceland remains the only supermarket to have committed to remove plastic in its entirety from our packaging, and has led the industry on transparency of reporting, being the first supermarket to publish its complete plastic footprint."
Waitrose topped the list for the second year running. The supermarket had reduced plastic use across own-brand and branded products by 6.1 per cent between 2017 and 2019. It also had the lowest plastic use per unit market share of all 10 stores.
Waitrose executive director James Bailey welcomed Greenpeace's recognition of the supermarket's efforts on plastic but said that the supermarket realises there's "more to do".
He added: "We know this remains as important to our customers as it does to us so we have continued to explore ways we can do more."
Aldi was praised for jumping from bottom to second place this year, while Lidl rose from eighth to fourth.
Morrisons, meanwhile, dropped from second to ninth place, with higher plastic use than in 2017 and an increase in plastic bag use since 2018.
Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency called for supermarkets to be more "robust" towards "major polluting brands" like Coca-Cola, Nestle and PepsiCo, suggesting they refuse to stock brands that don't meet plastic reduction targets.
The report noted a move away from single-use plastic bag use, stating that sales of single-use carrier bags fell by 56 per cent between 2017 and 2019.
All 10 supermarkets were contacted by The Independent for comment, and we received the following responses.
A spokesperson for Tesco, who ranked sixth, said: “We recently announced we successfully removed one billion pieces of plastic and got rid of hard-to-recycle materials. Through these actions, Tesco is driving change.
"We continue to remove excess packaging from our business, and despite major challenges of Covid, we have made good progress in tackling the impact of plastics through our 4Rs packaging strategy – Remove, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and we have ambitious plans for 2021 and beyond.”
Richard Gorman, Plastics and Packaging Director at Aldi (who came second) said: “Aldi has committed to removing over two billion pieces of plastic from circulation and we have already removed over 7,400 tonnes of plastic from across our product range, as we work towards halving our plastic packaging footprint by 2025.
"This includes banning single-use plastic bags for loose fruit and veg, removing plastic lids from yoghurt and cream pots and removing all plastic shrink-wrapping from own-label multipack soft drinks.”
A spokesperson for Asda (who ranked seventh) noted that the report had highlighted the fact that more than half of the total plastic weight reduction across the 10 supermarkets was from Asda.
They added: “However, we know there is more to be done and have an ambitious goal to remove three billion pieces of plastic packaging from our operations by 2025. Following the launch of our first sustainability store in Middleton last year, we also plan to introduce a minimum of 40 refillable products by 2025 all underpinned by ‘Greener at Asda Price’ – a national price promise that loose and unwrapped products will not cost more than packaged equivalents, so that customers can save money by using and wasting less.”
A spokesperson for the Co-op (which ranked eighth) said: “During the pandemic Co-op has remained open as a designated essential retailer and we have seen sales increase as shoppers opt for products in protective packaging.
"We have one of the lowest plastic footprints of any major food retailer and almost half of our packaging uses recycled content. We are committed to eliminating unrecyclable plastic and will make all of our packaging recyclable this year and we continue to rollout compostable carrier bags as an alternative to bags for life.”
Lidl ranked fourth in the table and a spokesperson for the supermarket said: "At Lidl GB, we have long supported the need to tackle plastic waste, and the detrimental impact that it is having on the environment. As highlighted in Greenpeace’s report, we are proud to have made a 2.6 per cent absolute reduction in our own brand plastic packaging usage since 2017, which corresponds to a 14 per cent reduction per unit of market share. This was achieved despite significant growth across our business during this period.
"We have made strong progress across all areas of our plastic and packaging targets and in addition to our current commitments, we set ourselves eight new ambitious goals in August 2020 to advance our approach even further. This includes a 40 per cent reduction in own-label plastic packaging by 2025, a commitment to doubling the number of reusable packaging formats by 2021 and reducing the total amount of own-label packaging by 25 per cent by 2025, all of which we are on track to achieve."
A spokesperson for M&S (who ranked third) said: "At M&S, our clear commitment is to significantly reduce our use of plastic packaging and we’ve removed over 2,500 tonnes since 2018. We’re also focused on helping our customers to reuse and recycle – from removing black plastic last year to rolling-out our refillable grocery concept Fill Your Own to more stores."