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BBIA criticises Tesco’s new ‘no compostables’ packaging strategy

“They might want to recall that, according to a recent study published by University College London, 84% of consumers prefer to purchase products in compostable packaging.”

Trade body Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) has issued its response to Tesco’s recently released packaging strategy, calling on the supermarket giant to drop its opposition to compostable packaging and help develop the collection infrastructure for compostables in the UK.

Tesco unveiled its new 2020 packaging strategy last month. Viewed by Bio Market Insights, the document maintains that materials such as compostable, oxy/oxodegradable, PLA, and black plastic should be under a ‘red list’ and not be used for its packaging because “customers cannot easily recycle” them in the UK. However, the strategy from the retailer green lights rigid materials like glass, PET, HDPE, PP, cardboard and paper, as it says that these items can easily be recycled at “kerbside” in store.

Tesco (@Tesco) explain this decision as an attempt to simplify the decisions customers have to make over how to recycle their packaging when they take it out of the store.  By reducing the number of packaging options open to their supply chain, and simplifying material choices, it hopes to be able to communicate with consumers more easily on how to recycle those materials and use materials which are more easily recyclable given the existing UK collection infrastructure. Tesco also state that their position will change as infrastructure matures and this decision reflects just their current thinking.

In a statement, BBIA (@bbia_uk) said it “respectfully” disagreed with Tesco’s choice, adding: “As the Plastic Pact (to which Tesco are signatories) made clear in guidelines for the use of compostable materials, published on 6 February 2020, there are certain uses for which plastics are simply not suitable. These currently include teabags, coffee pods, sticky labels on fruit and vegetables, ready meal trays and food caddy liners and that list continues to grow as collections and market uptake develop.

“It is obvious to any observer of the waste infrastructure in the UK (but also across the globe) that almost all plastic films are currently not being collected for recycling nor effectively recycled. In fact, less than 5% of plastic films in the UK are sent to recycling with an ambition in the Plastic Pact to raise this to just 7% by 2022. Compostable films therefore, are in exactly the same position as these materials relative to consumer choices: when a consumer takes them home and disposes of them their choices are still going to be limited.

“The difference is, many compostable films can be home composted easily whilst the 52 industrial composting plants in the UK will also accept them if they are collected and sent to these for treatment. Conversely, the Environment Agency shows that many plastic films are polluting food waste collections and ending up in our soils and water through composting and biogas treatment and is consulting over how to stop this happening.

“The development of the collection and treatment infrastructure is an issue which concerns the whole supply chain, from producers to waste management through consumers and retailers.”

BBIA added that it called upon Tesco to work within the Plastic Pact and with the BBIA to help develop the collection infrastructure for compostables which it claimed would “mature as food/garden waste collections become obligatory across the UK in 2023”.

BBIA maintained: “They might want to recall that, according to a recent study published by University College London, 84% of consumers prefer to purchase products in compostable packaging. By refusing to use this packaging, Tesco is setting itself against a tide which will only become more powerful as consumers understand that they cannot recycle many of the plastics Tesco is compelling suppliers to us.”

A Tesco spokesperson said: We are removing all unnecessary and non-recyclable materials from our packaging and will remove one billion pieces of plastic from our products in UK stores. To help us reach these targets we have reviewed the materials used in our packaging and have developed a preferred material list.”

This story was updated at 15.56 on 4th March 2020.


If you were interested in this bioeconomy story, you may also be interested in the ones below.

Read: New guidance launched to help businesses make ‘informed choices’ about compostable packaging.

Read: UK should stop plans to ramp up use of ‘industrially’ compostable packaging, MPs warn.

Read: Expert view: Going around in circles with compostables.

Read:  SC Johnson promotes recyclable and compostable plastic packaging in sustainability update.

Read: Huhtamaki unveils new compostable double wall cup.

Read: AMT Coffee unveils ‘let’s make the change’ bio-compostable cups for Christmas season.

Read: Deterioration of compostable bags in the sea happens rapidly, new study finds.

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