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First-ever ranking of leading European supermarkets’ commitments to dial back their use and waste of plastic reveals lack of real action.
Retail giants across Europe are being called out for what a coalition of
NGOs considers promoting false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis and
perpetuating double standards, according to a new report.
The first-ever analysis of the role European supermarkets are playing in addressing plastic pollution, Under wraps? What Europe’s supermarkets aren’t telling us about plastic is a result of collaboration of over 20 influential NGOs from
across Europe. The ranking developed by the Changing Markets
Foundation — the lead organization within the
Break Free from Plastic
— revealed a near-complete lack of consistency and follow-through across three
categories of questions on the topics of Transparency and performance,
Commitments, and Support for government policy.
Analysis for the Under Wraps report was conducted by the Changing Markets
Foundation with input from NGOs including ClientEarth, Greenpeace and
Friends of the Earth.
Of 130 retailers contacted, only 39 (30 percent) provided a written response to
the coalition’s questionnaire; but many of these responses did not provide
meaningful replies to the questions. Further analysis of 74 retailers across 13
countries revealed a concerning lack of actions to tackle the plastic crisis.
The overall average score achieved by retailers was only 13.1 out of 100.
Even within supermarkets performing well in the UK, the report uncovered
double standards for brands with international operations extending across
Europe. For example, Lidl — owned by the biggest European retail group,
Schwarz — with €125.3 billion
in 2020, achieved 44.7 percent in the UK, while only achieving between 13
percent and 23.7 percent in countries such as Germany and the Czech
Similarly, ALDI Süd — the top performer in the UK and Ireland, with 65.3
percent and 61 percent, respectively — only achieved 11 percent in Austria
(where it operates under the name Hofer) and 25.7 percent in Germany. Aldi
is Europe’s second-largest retailer, with €106.3 billion turnover.
Overall, retailers from the UK and France scored 39.6 percent and 23.3
percent, respectively. No other country achieved a total average of more than 20
percent. The average score achieved by retailers in Spain, the Czech
Republic and Estonia was below 10 percent.
Nusa Urbancic, Campaigns Director at the Changing Markets Foundation,
laments the inconsistency and lack of pursuit of systemic solutions.
“Our report shows that even the best performers, such as ALDI and LIDL, have
double standards when it comes to addressing the plastic crisis — they performed
well in the UK and Ireland, but show abysmal results in Spain, Germany and other
countries where they operate,” she says. “Such differences cannot be explained
through different national legislation and show that not a single retailer is
responding to the plastic crisis with the urgency this situation demands.”
that more than one-third of UK plastic packaging is not recyclable and only 5
percent is reusable. Instead of investing in systemic solutions, Under Wraps
reveals that supermarkets are promoting false solutions — such as in-store
flexible-plastic take-back schemes. On top of this, plastic packaging waste that
was marketed as being “recycled” was often exported to countries that have much
to deal with the problem, and previous investigations have revealed that
exported waste was dumped in
Christina Dixon, Ocean Campaign Leader at the Environmental Investigation
Agency (EIA), said: “EIA and partners have been surveying UK retailers on
their plastic use since 2018; and in that time, we've seen a marked improvement
in transparency, the quality of the data they provide and the targets they are
setting themselves. That said, being European leaders when the bar is set so low
is little cause for celebration. Ultimately, tangible reductions in plastic use
and the pace towards a packaging-free future built around the concepts of reuse
and refill is still far too slow to meet the scale of the crisis the planet is
More and more legitimate plastic-waste solutions are emerging from retailers
around the world, but standardization and scale will likely remain a challenge
for the foreseeable future; packaging-reuse models such as Loop are now
available in both online and brick-and-mortar retailers
but they provide a solution for a mere fraction of the global retail market.
And while Lidl may be inconsistent across countries in terms of delivering on
its plastic-reduction promises, Lidl Switzerland is working with Swiss materials
scientists to develop a cellulose protective coating for fruit and
that — if used at scale — could greatly reduce both retail packaging and food
Here in the US, some retail giants have joined forces to keep various sources of
plastic from becoming waste: In fall of 2021, the Consortium to Reinvent the
Retail Bag — comprising
CVS, Target and Walmart — launched a series of first-of-their-kind,
to advance sustainable alternatives to the single-use plastic bag and accelerate
their potential to scale. Target and Walmart are also members of the US
Plastics Pact — a cross-industry coalition of companies and NGOs actively
working to achieve a circular economy for plastics in the US by
Walmart is a member of the Recycling Partnership’s Pathway to Circularity
Industry Council, which last fall launched a transparent national
to standardize packaging recyclability; and Target also recently launched its
— which features products and packaging designed to be refillable, reusable or
compostable; made from recycled content; or made from materials that reduce the
use of plastic.
Published May 26, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST