Bring in plastic packaging ban, former Asda boss tells stores
The former boss of Asda is calling for supermarkets to stop using plastic packaging, saying billions of pounds of investment in recycling has failed to resolve the world’s plastic proliferation crisis.
Andy Clarke, chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains for six years, said the only solution was for retailers to reject plastic entirely in favour of more sustainable alternatives such as paper, steel, glass and aluminium.
“Go into any supermarket in the country and you will be met by a wall of technicolour plastic,” Clarke said. “Be it fruit and veg or meat and dairy, plastic encases virtually everything we buy.
“Regardless of how much is invested in Britain’s recycling infrastructure, virtually all plastic packaging will reach landfill or the bottom of the ocean sooner or later. Once there, it will remain on the earth for centuries. It is vital that the UK packaging industry and supermarkets work together to turn off the tap.”
Efforts to recycle more plastic and “a never-ending stream of initiatives” – many of which Clarke oversaw at Asda – have failed to stem the plastic flow and it is clear a more radical approach is needed, said Clarke, who stood down last year.
“We want a future for our grandchildren which is, as far as possible, plastic-free,” he said. “We also know that consumers want the same thing and with heightened public awareness of the dire consequences of unfettered plastic pollution, they are fully in support of the industry’s efforts to make a meaningful change.”
Clarke said supermarkets should create plastic-free aisles and showcase the wealth of alternatives, including innovations like grass paper. He also backed the campaign A Plastic Planet as a way to spread the use of alternative packaging.
The world’s plastic binge shows no signs of halting. A Guardian investigation this year revealed consumers around the world buy a million plastic bottles a minute and plastic production is set to double in the next 20 years and quadruple by 2050.
In the UK less than a third (29%) of the 5m tonnes of plastic used each year is recovered and recycled. Across the world more than 8m tonnes of plastic leaks into the oceans and a recent study found that billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic.
Clarke said he has witnessed how much supermarkets have done to try to promote recycling, investing billions to try to increase the amount of recycled plastic they use.
“Unlike materials like aluminium and glass, plastic packaging cannot be recycled ad infinitum. Most items of plastic packaging can only be recycled twice before they become unusable,” he said.
29% The proportion of the 5m tonnes of plastic used each year in the UK which is recycled – while global plastic production is set to double by 2037