UK supermarket promises to go plastic-free by 2023

Iceland store
Promo image Iceland

The fact that Iceland specializes in frozen food has not daunted its directors, who say they'll switch to recyclable paper and pulp trays.

The backlash against unnecessary plastic packaging happily continues. Just yesterday I wrote about the European Union's pledge to fight plastic pollution, and the same day a major supermarket chain in the UK, Iceland, vowed to eliminate or drastically reduce all plastic packaging for its store-brand products by 2023.

The BBC says the announcement follows "recent outcries over the packaging of cauliflower 'steaks' and coconuts, and Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet programme, which showed vivid images of plastic pollution," as well as prime minister Theresa May's calling plastic waste "one of the great environmental scourges of our time". It seems that, finally, the public is waking up to the seriousness of this problem.

Iceland found that 80 percent of 5,000 surveyed shoppers would support a move toward plastic-free packaging -- despite the fact that Iceland specializes in frozen food, which means that switching packaging is not as simple a process as it would be for greengrocers, and therefore is all the more admirable. In addition, 91 percent of shoppers said they would be more likely to encourage friends and family to shop there as a result of the chain's plastic-free stance.

Nigel Broadhurst, joint managing director of Iceland, described the store's typical food packaging to the BBC:

"It is currently in a black plastic tray. That black plastic is the worst possible option in terms of toxins going into the ground and the ability to recycle that product."

Iceland plans to replace this with paper and pulp trays and paper bags. These would be recyclable through domestic waste collections or recycling facilities available in-store (via the Guardian).

Managing director, Richard Walker, expressed a sense of environmental responsibility that's not usually heard from the corporate world. He said:

"The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change."

It is a wonderfully refreshing attitude, and exactly what many anti-plastic pollution campaigners have been waiting to hear for a long time. Now, if only other companies would share Walker's sense of responsibility and follow Iceland's example.

Five years is a long time, but it's unlikely the supermarket chain will waver in its promise. If anything, the public's opposition to plastic will only grow stronger as time goes by and there will be little chance of Iceland being let off the hook as the deadline approaches. If anything, the company stands to gain great respect for its progressive move.

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