Tesco has recently issued an updated series of guidelines on the preferred materials and formats that it will accept as packaging.
In these updated guidelines Tesco has included all compostable materials in its ‘Red list’ under the category of packaging “Not to be used as customers cannot easily recycle (UK)”.
Tesco explains this decision as an attempt to simplify the choices 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, it hopes to be able to communicate with consumers more easily on how to recycle those materials and use materials that are more easily recyclable, given the existing UK collection infrastructure.
Tesco also states that its position will change as infrastructure matures and this decision only reflects their current thinking.
Whilst we understand Tesco’s desire to simplify what is a complex, international supply chain, we respectfully disagree with its choice. As the Plastics Pact (to which Tesco is a signatory) made clear in guidelines for the use of compostable materials, published on 6 February 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 and across the globe that almost all plastic films are currently not being collected for recycling nor effectively recycled. In fact, less than five per cent of plastic films in the UK are sent for recycling with an ambition in the Plastics Pact to raise this to just seven per cent 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 that many compostable films can be easily home composted, while 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 that concerns the whole supply chain, from producers and waste management operators through to consumers and retailers. We call upon Tesco to work within the Plastics 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.
Tesco may want to recall that, according to a recent study published by University College London, 84 per cent of consumers prefer to purchase products in compostable packaging. By refusing to use this packaging, Tesco is setting itself against a tide that will only become more powerful as consumers understand that they cannot recycle many of the plastics Tesco is compelling suppliers to use.
Managing Director BBIA
https://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/The-UK-Plastics-Pact-report-18-19.pdf (page 16)
BBIA is the UK Trade Association representing producers and distributors of materials made from partially or wholly plant based feedstocks that have a common end of life in managed and certified biodegradation.
Source: BBIA, press release, 2020-03-04.