Bring in plas­tic pack­ag­ing ban, for­mer Asda boss tells stores

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - San­dra Lav­ille

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

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