David Newman, managing director of the Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) looks at supermarket giant Tesco’s recently updated guidelines on its preferred materials and formats which they will accept as packaging, saying Tesco is “setting itself against a tide which will only become more powerful”.
Tesco have recently issued an updated series of guidelines on the preferred materials and formats which they will accept as packaging. In these updated guidelines Tesco have included all compostable materials in their Red list under the category of packaging “Not to be used as customers cannot easily recycle (UK)” .
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, they hope 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.
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 use.
Tesco also state that their position will change as infrastructure matures and this decision reflects just their current thinking.
Whilst we understand their desire to simplify what is a complex, international supply chain, we respectfully disagree with their choice. As the Plastic Pact (to which Tesco are signatories) made clear in guidelines for the use of compostable materials, published on February 6th 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. We call upon Tesco to work within the Plastic Pact and with the BBIA to help develop the collection infrastructure for compostables which will mature as food/garden waste collections become obligatory across the UK in 2023.
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 use.