More than 350 million tonnes of plastic a year could be removed from the United Kingdom and Ireland‘s supermarket shelves after Tesco, the world’s third-largest retailer, pledged to scrap shrink-wrapped multipacks across all its own-brand and branded tinned food.
The move – the first of its kind by a large supermarket chain – has seen it join forces with canned food firms including Heinz and Green Giant to replace multipacks with “multi-buy deals”.
“We are removing all unnecessary and non-recyclable plastic from Tesco,” said Tesco Chief Executive Officer Dave Lewis in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.
Industry analysts believe UK supermarkets create approximately 800,000 tonnes of plastic a year, reports Which?, a British consumer rights magazine – though it adds that wasted food creates around three times the carbon produced by its packaging.
Paula Chin is a sustainable materials specialist at the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature.
“WWF supports Tesco’s steps in the fight against plastic pollution,” she said in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.
“We need to remove unnecessary single-use plastic wherever possible, to stop the contamination of the natural world. If we want to protect nature we need more businesses to follow Tesco’s lead, before we run out of time to fight for our world.”
Tesco will roll out the changes from March 2, with no more plastic-wrapped multipacks of any canned food ordered by the group from then – though it will continue to sell down remaining stocks.
The company said the pledge will see 67 million pieces of plastic removed from its stores, taking it another step closer to its aim of cutting out one billion pieces of plastic from its own products by the end of the year.
More than 40 percent of Tesco customers buy tinned multipacks, with 183,000 sold across its stores every day.
“It’s great that Tesco are getting rid of multipack plastic packaging that’s completely pointless, and are also pressuring their branded suppliers like Heinz and Branston to do the same,” Fiona Nicholls, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told Al Jazeera.
“This is such an easy, common sense first step that all supermarkets should have done this long ago. We urge retailers to end the nonsense of double-plastic packaging on all products straight away, and be bolder by introducing reusable and refillable packaging.”
More than 100 million Heinz products alone are sold in plastic-wrapped multipacks each year through Tesco.
Heinz said it is looking at similar initiatives with other retailers, estimating that if it could be expanded across the entire market, it would help reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 3,300 tonnes a year.
The retailer had already run a pilot trial to remove plastic-wrapped multipacks of tinned products in a giant store in the university town of Cambridge, where it tests a load of packaging ideas.
Georgiana de Noronha, president of Kraft Heinz in Northern Europe, said: “While we know we have more to do, this initiative is good news for the environment, and for the millions of people who enjoy Heinz varieties every day, as they’ll still be able to benefit from the same great value for money our multipacks provide.”
At the end of last year, Tesco removed all hard-to-recycle materials from its own-brand products and is working with suppliers to do the same.
The group has also warned 1,500 suppliers that packaging will be a deciding factor on which products are sold in its stores.