Retailers and the fight against plastics

April 16, 2019| by Ben Allen


In a recent NielsenIQ Homescan survey, 88% of shoppers said they agreed that retailers should do more to reduce the amount of plastic packaging used on grocery products (State of the Nation, 2019).

Recycling plastics has become a major talking point in recent years, with many raising the concerns of what the material is doing to our wildlife and environment. In 2018, some of the UK’s largest supermarkets signed up to the UK’s Plastics Pact, a voluntary initiative to slash plastic waste. The industry-wide pledge aims to make all plastic packaging recyclable, recycled or biodegradable by 2025, with four world leading targets:

  • 100% of plastic to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging items through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models
  • 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging


But almost one year on, what plans have been put in place to help the war on plastics?

Morrisons were one of the first to act upon the removal of plastic packaging in mid-2018, introducing sustainable fresh produce bags in a move that was said to prevent 150 million small plastic bags from being used every year. Tescos are currently trialling reducing packaging from loose fruit and vegetables. In total over 45 variants will be taken out of packaging and if successful, will be rolled out to all stores across the UK. Iceland have done something very similar at their Food Warehouse stores as well. In today’s shopping environment, there is a soaring demand for plastic-free produce aisles so this move comes at a perfect time with 30% of consumers revealing they buy more loose products now.

Iceland have also begun rewarding customers at selected stores by offering 10p for every plastic bottle that is recycled in a store vending machine. ASDA have revealed that they removed 6,500 tonnes of plastic packaging in a year across almost 1000 own-brand items. The supermarket has also created a ‘Less Plastic Packaging’ icon that is placed on the front of products where at least 10% plastic has been removed from packaging. Waitrose have changed all of their black plastic packaging to clear. Starting with their ‘food-to-go’ bottles and rolling out across their fruit, veg, fish and meat. The change is said to save over 17 tonnes of plastic from landfill each year [via Waitrose press office]. Sainsbury’s have also pledged to reduce plastics in all of their packaging by over half compared to 2005 by 2020. Already though, nearly 40% of its packaging uses recycled content and the retailer has begun trialling airtight food cartons for certain ready meal items.

These are just some of the initiatives currently in place, but is just retailers we should be looking at? In the same NielsenIQ State of the Nation survey, it was revealed that only 45% of respondents said they actively recycle at home. Whilst all generations are engaged within the conversation of reducing waste, it appears millenials are less likely to recycle, according to a survey conducted by The British Science Association (via Huffington Post). The NielsenIQ State of the Nation survey also found that millennials are less vocal on social compared with older generations. With less than half of the UK population recycling then, should retailers be educating more consumers about plastic recycling? Or is it a case of common knowledge, especially when the younger generations have always grown up with recycling?

Read about the environmental pressures in the FMCG industry blog >

Since its introduction back in 2015, the 5p bag charge has helped to reduce the amount of plastic waste, with many consumers getting on board with the scheme. revealed in 2018 there had been a dramatic reduction of 86% in the number of bags used and purchased, down from 140 to just 19 per consumer. Despite this making a dramatic difference, 82% of shoppers still agree that retailers should do more to reduce the amount of plastic bags in stores (NielsenIQ State of the Nation, 2019). Should plastic bags be banned altogether then? Some supermarkets have already begun hiding 5p bags from checkouts in a bid to promote 10p+ bags for life. In a recent move, Morrisons has introduced paper carrier bags at selected stores, claiming it would save 1,300 tonnes of plastic a year. Currently under trial, if successful, the retailer will roll out nationally. It’s a massive step forward in a bid to tackle what is seen as one of the bigger problems in the fight against plastic. The Government has also confirmed there are plans to increase bag charges to 10p in 2020 to further tackle the problem. It’s time consumers start using the initiative in how best to pack their shopping trolleys.

So are retailers really doing enough to combat the no plastic revolution? In short, yes. But, as with any strategy, it can take time for initiatives to be rolled out. This is evident in the recent trails being undertaken by all of the big supermarkets. It’ll take time to fully understand if the changes will be successful though. It may seem like baby steps in the fight against plastic, but its steps that before 2017’s Blue Planet 2 aired on TV, weren’t even there. Within the next 5-10 years we will be seeing completely different supermarkets to those we witnessed 5 years prior. Although it may seem like not enough is being done from the outside, it’s currently a case of slow and steady wins the race on the inside. With more trials and strategies being rolled out, it’s only a matter of time before supermarkets will really be ahead of the game. And if consumers continue to educate themselves and make recycling a major priority in their households, then both will stand a fighting chance in the battle against plastic waste.

Download The power of plastics in diary report here >

Thinking about revising your products with more sustainable packaging but worried about the FMCG market? From testing new product revisions to conducting competitive analysis to capturing your data, NielsenIQ Brandbank can help your products ecommerce success and help your consumers learn more about what you’re doing in the fight against plastic reduction.

Contact an Account Manager today on +44 (0) 330 555 33 44 or email

Sources (unless specified): NielsenIQ, Retail Gazette, The Grocer,,, The Independent, Huffington Post



Get In Touch

    For further details in relation to how we handle the personal information you provide to us, please see our Privacy Notice.