Iceland Foods and UK’s leading campaigners call for transparency of plastic packaging consumption

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Iceland is today calling on the retail and wider business sector to become more transparent in their reporting of plastic packaging, as the supermarket continues to lead the way in the fight against plastic pollution.

Four of the most influential campaigners on this issue – Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, A Plastic Planet, and Surfers Against Sewage – are joining forces with Iceland to call for greater transparency.

The call for transparency is also supported by the Environmental Investigation Agency, which together with Greenpeace produces an annual survey on plastic usage by supermarkets, and by Keep Britain Tidy and international development charity Tearfund.

Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, said: “Our message is clear. Without transparency, and government enforced reduction targets, we will not be able to judge whether business actions are delivering real progress. That is why today Iceland is calling on retailers and other businesses to step up and commit to publishing their total plastic packaging transparently, including both own label and branded products. For several years now, businesses have been using incomplete information to represent the scale of their plastic packaging, their commitments to change, and the progress being made. We will all be better served by a more accurate and transparent picture on this issue.

“What we are asking from all major retailers and businesses is straightforward as they are already subject to PRN reporting and will be in the future to the Government’s planned EPR scheme, so this will require no extra costs or resources.

“We have a huge challenge ahead that can only be solved by businesses and policy makers working together, in tandem with fully informed consumers sharing a completely clear picture of both the country and individual businesses’ total plastic packaging. Increased recycling is important but won’t solve the issue on its own. Regulated commitments to reduce plastic pollution are also vital if we are to deliver positive progress in the face of the sheer scale of plastic making its way into the environment.”

When Iceland made its commitment on own label plastic packaging in 2018, it promised to provide regular updates to its customers along its journey, and it is now once again leading the way by proactively publishing its full plastic footprint.

Since Iceland made its commitment to eliminate all plastic packaging from its own label products by the end of 2023, it has made significant progress in reducing the plastic it uses. In total it had removed 3,794 tonnes out of the 13,000 tonnes the business was using in January 2018 by the end of 2019 – equating to a 29% reduction.

The figures released today include Iceland’s primary packaging along with the secondary and tertiary packaging used to deliver food to its stores, alongside the packaging for the brands it sells, with figures reported separately for its UK and international businesses. They reveal that Iceland’s total plastic packaging footprint for its UK and international operations is over 32,000 tonnes and includes more than 1.8 billion items of packaging and almost 93 million plastic bottles.

“Our figures show that two thirds of the plastic packaging we sell relates to brands rather than own label.  When we made our commitment to eliminate plastic from our own label products by the end of 2023, we were aware that we would have to take further steps to lead the way in the fight against the scourge of plastic. That is why as well as calling on fellow retailers, businesses and the Government, we are also publishing our first plastic packaging footprint to reflect both our impact and the challenge that lies ahead.  We can only solve this crisis by working together,” Richard Walker added.

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “This initiative is an important development in the drive to slash plastic pollution.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Many corporate ambitions for reducing plastic waste may sound impressive, but unless they are clear about how much they’re responsible for in the first place these can be fairly meaningless.

“Ministers must listen to the growing calls for serious action on the plastic crisis by ensuring that bold targets for reducing plastic pollution and waste are included in the Environment Bill.”

Greenpeace UK plastic campaigner Nina Schrank said: “There’s nothing like transparency about a problem to force companies to tackle it, and that’s true of throwaway plastic too. Iceland has made a bold and brave move by publishing their plastic data, and we urge other retailers to follow suit. If UK supermarkets are underreporting their packaging, ocean plastic pollution could be far worse than we thought and wildlife could be even more at risk. 

“UK supermarkets are starting to cut the amount of single-use plastic packaging they produce, but we need them to move faster and think bigger. The government can make a big difference by setting legally-binding targets, pushing retailers to cut their plastic packaging in half by 2025. Supermarkets can do it, they should do it, and the government ought to be watching to make sure that they all do it.”    

A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland said: “To quote Peter Drucker, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’. For years UK supermarkets have been hiding behind half-truths and incomplete data, never fully disclosing the enormous scale of the plastic within their own businesses. 

“This bold move by Iceland must quickly be adopted by all UK retailers. If the retailers use their collective might, the brands will soon have to follow and we will finally see some real plastic reduction rather than yet more pacts and pledges. Should retailers not volunteer to do the right thing now, Whitehall must move quickly to make transparent plastic reporting a legal requirement.”

Hugo Tagholm, CEO, Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Surfers Against Sewage believes that setting plastic pollution reduction targets in the Environment Bill will help drive the action required at individual, business and community level to stem the plastic tide. We urgently need measures that correspond with these targets, including transparent reporting from all businesses, plastic bans, reuse incentives and a deposit return system on plastic bottles. We have a once in a generation opportunity to deliver world-beating legislation to end plastic pollution once and for all.