How do UK supermarkets assess the climate crisis? | Supermarkets

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WWhen Morrisons pledged last month to eliminate plastic wrapping from its bananas – the second most commonly purchased fresh product in its stores – it seemed like a smart move. “Bananas have their own packaging: their skins,” said Elio Biondo, Morrisons banana buyer. Instead of plastic bags, strips of paper will be used to ensure that the bunches remain intact.

This was one of many initiatives disclosed by retailers in recent years, others including more recyclable and compostable packaging and “refill stations” for bulk items such as pasta.

I visited my local Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and Lidl branches in North London to see what was happening on the ground and to find out if a weekly ‘green’ store is within reach.

Plastic wrap

Concerns about the transmission of Covid would have resulted in reduced sales of unpackaged products and a relaxation of anti-plastic measures, but I could still buy fruits and vegetables in bulk.

For those who wish to package their goods, Tesco has switched to recyclable bags made from a plastic / paper blend. This month my nearest Tesco hypermarket was to join Sainsbury’s by offering reusable mesh bags for 30p each. However, shrink-wrapped cucumbers and single-use potatoes were still in the aisles.

It is not yet possible to buy loose leafy greens such as kale and spinach, or certain herbs, in large supermarkets, although you can buy cilantro and basil in jars. In my Lidl, the potted herbs were in a plastic pot with a plastic sleeve.

Lidl has introduced reusable “green bags” for its bulk fruits and vegetables. Photography: Georgina Quach

In every store I visited, the salad was sold in shiny clear bags – usually made from composite plastics that most boards refuse to recycle.

At Lidl, it was easy to pick up fruits and vegetables in bulk, and customers could even put nuts in their own containers or use their reusable twine bags (two for 49p). But elsewhere in the store there were still an alarming number of plastic items.

In a branch, a honeydew melon was wrapped in plastic film. In this store, customers could squeeze fresh orange juice in a special machine, although it only had single-use plastic bottles. Freshly baked bread and pastries were always sold in clear plastic bags.

In Morrisons, plastic bags were used to carry flowers and bouquets (although the bags for life are gone). The salad bar only offered single use plastic boxes. In Waitrose, at the weigh-in points in the fruit and vegetable aisles, only plastic bags were available.

Recyclable bags for fruits and vegetables at Tesco
Tesco reports in its stores that fruit and vegetable bags are recyclable. Photography: Georgina Quach

Bags for life

Morrisons and the co-op said in April they were ditching reusable plastic bags. None were visible in my Morrisons. Lidl still offers 25p bags but I haven’t seen any.

Signs around the Waitrose store warned customers that “our 10p plastic bags are going to disappear” – a move to prevent people from using these bags just once. At Tesco, I was still able to buy a 20 pence bag for life. Lidl, for a while, let shoppers take their groceries home in discarded cardboard boxes, and there were no lifetime bags available at checkouts.

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A “charging zone” in an Asda store in Leeds. Photograph: Molly Darlington / Reuters

Refills

Refill aisles are appearing in some supermarkets offering unpackaged alternatives for many everyday items such as rice, cereals, shampoo and pasta. Customers bring their own containers. While most large supermarkets have piloted zero waste programs, none of my stores – Waitrose, Tesco, Morrisons, and Lidl – had a charging aisle.

Clothes and shoe recycling bins in Waitrose
Clothing and shoe recycling bins in Waitrose. Photography: Georgina Quach

Recycling

At the gates of Lidl, large bins were available where buyers could drop off batteries, cardboard or plastic waste to be recycled. As one of the ambitions of the UK Plastics Pact, grocers including Tesco and Sainsbury’s have rolled out ‘soft plastic’ recycling points in some stores, but unfortunately not where I live.

In my Waitrose, a range of reusable coffee mugs and recycled goods was on display at the entrance. In the parking lot there were also drop-off points for recycling clothes and shoes.

Bicycle rack

Due to fears of contracting Covid on public transport and environmental concerns, a growing number of people are choosing to cycle. Others just realize that bicycles can outperform cars in cities like London. However, at my Morrisons, Waitrose and Lidl – all located on the same busy main street – there are only a few places to park a bike. I counted about six bike stations in the immediate vicinity. These tended to be close to the entrance to each store, within sight of the security guard. But there wasn’t much room if you are traveling with family or have a cargo bike / trailer. There was no shelter from the rain, so cyclists risked getting back on a soggy saddle. Tesco also had a small bicycle rack on the outside.

Climate crisis: what the stores have promised

Sainsbury’s this week, accelerated its goal of becoming zero carbon for its own operations, with a date of 2035. It plans to install 100% LED lighting in its supermarkets by the end of this year.

Morrisons also advanced its commitment to be zero carbon for its own operations until 2035, five years earlier than originally planned. He says it will be the first supermarket to own and operate its own solar farm across multiple sites.

Tesco has a group-wide net zero target of 2035 for its own operations and has committed to net zero emissions from its supply chain and products by 2050.

Asda aims to be net zero carbon by 2040 and reduce food waste by 20% by 2025. It has opened three refill stores (one more to come in Milton Keynes by the end of this year). ‘year).

Waitrose has pledged its network of UK agricultural suppliers to be zero carbon by 2035. It says it will increase its use of electric vans for door-to-door deliveries as part of a broader ambition to end to the use of fossil fuels in its fleet by 2030.

Cooperative has pledged to become zero carbon by 2040 and claims that it will be the first supermarket in the world to sell fully carbon-neutral own-brand foods and beverages by 2025. All own-brand food packaging is fully recyclable.


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