'Supermarkets guilty of deception in plastic crisis'


26 May 2022
New report points to double standards

RETAIL giants across Europe are promoting false solutions to plastic pollution, according to a new report.

The report, entitled 'Under wraps? What Europe’s supermarkets aren’t telling us about plastic' analyses the role European supermarkets play in addressing plastic pollution. It was compiled following collaboration with more than 20 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), from across Europe.

The specially-designed ranking developed by The Changing Markets Foundation revealed a near-complete lack of ambition across three categories: Transparency and performance, commitments, and support for government policy. The overall average score achieved by retailers was 13.1 out of 100.

Of 130 retailers contacted, only 39 retailers (30%) provided a written response to the coalition’s questionnaire. Further analysis of 74 retailers across 13 countries revealed a lack of actions to tackle the plastic crisis.

Even within supermarkets performing well in the UK, the report uncovered double standards for brands with international operations extending across Europe. For example, Lidl, a brand from the biggest European retail group Schwarz with 125.3 billion EUR turnover in 2020, achieved 44.7% in the UK whilst only achieving between 13% and 23.7% in other countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic.

Similarly, ALDI Süd was the top performer in the UK and Ireland, with 65.3% and 61% respectively, but it only achieved 11% in Austria, where it operates under the name Hofer, and 25.7% in Germany. Aldi is the second biggest retailer in Europe with 106.3 billion EUR turnover.

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Overall, retailers from the UK and France scored 39.6% and 23.3% respectively. No other country achieved a total average of more than 20%. The average score achieved by retailers in Spain, the Czech Republic and Estonia was below 10%.

Campaigns Director at the Changing Markets Foundation, Nusa Urbancic, said: “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. 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. Instead of investing in systemic solutions, such as plastic reduction and reuse systems, retailers were found to be greenwashing and delaying legislation.”

WRAP recently reported that more than one third of UK plastic packaging is not recyclable and only 5% was reusable. The Under Wraps report reveals that supermarkets are promoting 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 fewer resources to deal with this problem, and previous investigations revealed that exported waste was dumped in nature.

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Ocean Campaign Leader, Christina Dixon 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 facing.”

Rosa Pritchard of ClientEarth pointed out that a number of the supermarkets included in the report are public companies therefore have legal obligations to be transparent about their performance on plastics. Public opinion polls consistently show that consumers believe retailers should address plastic pollution.

Peak of the pyramid
Positive perception of environmental impact
Consumers want more environmental action
Environmental land management explored