UK Supermarket Tesco Says It Will Ban Products With Excessive Packaging

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The company is ramping up pressure on suppliers to design less wasteful packaging.

Frustrated with the slow pace of regulatory change surrounding plastics recycling, the CEO of Tesco, one of Britain's major supermarket chains, has taken matters into his own hands. Dave Lewis wrote for The Guardian earlier today that, starting next year, the company will ban brands that use excessive plastic packaging. He wrote:

"We can’t overlook the fact that for too long, packaging on consumer goods has been excessive. We have all looked at the settled contents of a cereal packet and puzzled over the comparative size of the bag and box. Or opened a bag of crisps and wondered why the packaging is twice the size of the contents."
Lewis said that Tesco will reserve the right not to list a product if its packaging is deemed excessive or unsuitable, but that it will give suppliers adequate time to change their designs. In many cases this will mean "going back to the drawing board," but considering that Tesco is the largest supermarket chain in the United Kingdom, suppliers would be wise to put in that effort. Lewis recognizes how much work it will be, but views it as necessary:
"Overhauling every piece of packaging in a business is hard, but it has got to be done. The potential to make a positive impact is significant given the breadth of our supply chain. We’ve already shown what can be achieved through partnerships with our work on food waste: we are now more than 80 percent of the way to delivering our commitment that no good food goes to waste in Tesco. There’s no reason we can’t achieve the same with packaging."

Lewis's words are a breath of fresh air in an industry that is moving glacially in response to consumer concerns about single-use packaging. His decision creates pressure on suppliers that is far more intense than anything shoppers can generate; at worst, they can leave an item on the shelf if they don't like its packaging. But in Lewis's case, non-compliance threatens suppliers' ability to sell in 2,658 large stores across the country.

Tesco is walking its own talk by eliminating hard-to-recycle plastics, such as black takeout trays, from its own store-brand products. It is trialling a loose fruits and vegetables aisle at a location in Cambridge, and offering multi-buys of products without the plastic packaging that used to lump them together. But all of this would be more effective if government got involved, regulating recycling and closed-loop production. Lewis hopes others jump on board, too.